Comerica Theatre was almost full on Sunday, June 26, when Kenny Rogers said farewell to his Phoenix fans. The almost two-hour performance/retrospective was highly entertaining and, at times, bittersweet, as the 77-year-old singer sang a great many of the hits from his near-60-year career.
For those who came to hear one the greatest voices in country and pop music history one last time, there may have been some disappointment, as "The Gambler" doesn't have nearly as strong a hand (or voice) as he once did. The house sound, for much of the first few songs, was not doing him any favors either, as Rogers was difficult to hear during the first 10 to 15 minutes of his show.
It was difficult to see Rogers struggle in the early going, and as he halfway stumbled out onto the stage, many in the audience were concerned for his well-being. Rogers joked about this and he explained some of his trouble as he talked about having a recent knee-replacement surgery, and he quipped, "I think the doctor replaced the wrong knee." He also chided the audience for being the worst at helping him sing as he opened the show with his version of Johnny Darnell's "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." The interplay with the audience would continue throughout the evening, clearly to the joy of almost everyone present.
For those, though, who love the man and his songs and just wanted to see him one last time performing on a Phoenix stage, the show was everything they could have wanted and more, as Rogers is a consummate entertainer, and his stories in between songs were equally entertaining, if not more so, than than the songs themselves. Singer Linda Davis joined Rogers for much of the set, and helped sing many of his famous duets. Davis, who has had some success on the country charts as a solo artist and as part of the duo Skip & Linda, provided a nice balance for both the vocals and stage presence as Rogers, due to the knee replacement, was relegated to sitting for much of the show.
Rogers touched on each phase of his career, and the songs and stories were often supplemented by video on one of three screens placed behind the singer and flanking his excellent band. The crowd seemed to revel in each phase as Rogers talked and sang them through, especially as he expounded on his early years as a member of the Bobby Doyle Three and the First Edition. The renditions of "Something's Burning" and "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" were stellar, and by this point in the performance, both the sound and Rogers' voice were rounding into form nicely.
The humble Rogers talked glowingly about many of the performers, especially the "great" Dottie West, that he had paired with through the years. He showed a montage of images featuring people he feels are the foundation of the country music world while he sang "They Just Don't Make 'Em Like You Anymore," from Rogers' Back Home Again (1991). The crowd reaction to each of the images was interesting to gauge, and the last image featured, Elvis Presley, got the biggest reaction of them all.
As the set began to come to the inevitable close, Rogers talked about his decision to spend more time with his wife (even having Wanda, his wife of 22 years, stand up and wave to the crowd) and children, as well as devote himself to his "obsessions" like photography. He sang a great rendition of "'Merica" while showing some of his photographs, and there were audible oohs and ahhs from the crowd at some of his images, before powering through three of his biggest hits: "The Gambler," "Lady," and "Islands in the Stream."
As he and Davis sang "Blaze of Glory" to close the show, Rogers walked off the stage arm in arm with his co-star for the evening, but not before pausing to wave to the crowd. It was a fitting farewell for both Rogers and his fans alike, and as the band played the few bars of the songs, the house lights came up.
"The Gambler" had left the table.
Last Night: Kenny Rogers (with Linda Davis) at Comerica Theatre
Personal Bias: Who doesn't love the song "The Gambler?"
The Crowd: What came before the baby boomers? The baby makers?
Overheard: Kenny Rogers, at one point said, "If I fall down, don't worry about picking me up. I have Life Alert."