Concert Review

George Strait at Phoenix's US Airways Center

When I get off of work on Friday after working like a dog all week, I go to meet the boys for a cold one at a little joint up the street. They got a jukebox in the corner full of old country tunes, feed it five dollars worth of quarters is the first thing I always do.

For a guy who hasn't filled out a W2 in 30-plus years, George Strait sure can sing the working man's music. Opening with "Twang," the title track off his latest studio album -- his twenty-sixth, if you can believe it -- the "King of Country," set a laid-back but celebratory tone perfect for Super Bowl weekend's Friday night.

Sure, the "little joint up the street" was reinterpreted as a packed-to-the-rafters U.S. Airways Center. "A cold one" ran $10 and two fistfuls of quarters wouldn't get you even one "old country tune" but the salty, smoky flavor of a barroom on the edge of town came through as the 57-year-old Texan played through hits like "Check Yes or No," "I Hate Everything" and "Amarillo By Morning."

Strait looked tan and rested in his signature line of understated western wear, working all four corners of the square center-court stage while his nine-piece Ace In The Hole band played through some of his 44 Billboard magazine country No. 1's. Deeper cuts, like the modest hit "How 'bout Them Cowgirls," and "Arkansas Dave," an outlaw ballad penned by Strait's son, were also well-offered and well-received.

A cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" during the encore was one hiccup -- like Dan Gibson I can't imagine Strait shooting anyone -- but the delightfully sappy "This Is Where The Cowboy Rides Away" soon set things right.

The night didn't start with George, of course and it's obvious the crowd is in for a treat when someone who's earned the title "The Queen Of Country" is an opener. Reba McEntire, looking much younger than her 54 years in a tight black tank top and jeans, played the brassy redhead role to the hilt through a set that managed to strike the perfect balance between "entertaining" and "upstaging." A cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" was a highlight, as was an extended on-stage skit featuring her TV foil Melissa Peterman which ended in the Reba theme song, "I'm A Survivor." She left the stage shortly thereafter, returning in a vintage yellow taxi and her trademark red sequin dress to sing "Fancy" for a mini-encore.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: George Strait and Reba McEntire at U.S. Airways Center.

Better Than: Toby Keith at Cricket Pavilion last summer. I love the Tobster but he's got a long way to go before he's at George's level.

Random Fact: Strait made a point of mentioning that he opened the arena. Who's dumb idea was it to have a die-hard San Antonio Spurs fan open the new Suns arena? Bad juju, folks. You might as well erect a statue of David Robinson outside the joint.

Further Reading: Dan Gibson wrote a great essay about Strait's appeal for this week's paper.

By The Way: In the last year I've seen Strait, McEntire, Toby Keith, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Willie Nelson in concert. I reckon I'll need to see Garth Brooks in Vegas if I hope to top that.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar