Last Night: Vince Gill At Arena Theatre

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Vince Gill Arena Theatre January 27, 2011

Nashville superstar and Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill spent his Thursday hanging with former President George H.W. Bush, but that and four margaritas didn't keep Gill from laying down a note-perfect, immaculate 28 song tour de force at the Arena Theater last night.

Opening with a roadhouse-ish version of "One More Last Chance" and immediately jumping into the stone-cold honky-tonk of "Take Your Memory With You," Gill wasted no time showing the crowd that he wasn't fooling around or taking Houston lightly. And there was no doubt that he knew he was in Texas.

And, as he switched guitars, he grabbed the crowd immediately with his first comment of the night about the rotating Arena Theater stage: "The drag about playing a show like this is you can't scratch your ass all night long."

From there, Gill and his eight-piece ensemble knocked their way almost effortlessly through 28 songs in a two-and-a-half-hour show that was the equal of Dwight Yoakum's November 2009 Arena date.

It was a textbook big-time country music show without any of the macho bullshit that usually accompanies the latest Nashville heavyweights on tour. Gill may be the most humble and gracious major entertainer Nashville has produced in the last quarter century.

And while Gill's amazing voice and Danny Gatton-like picking were on display throughout the show, it is his Oklahoma good-old-boy between-song patter that truly endeared him to the throng. For instance, shortly after he plowed through the only nominally bluegrass tune of the night, "The High Lonesome Sound," a woman in the front row hollered out "Vince, kiss me."

During the next tune, the woman's significant other left his seat and placed a note at Gill's feet. When the song ended, Gill picked up the note, read it, and put it in his pocket.

Playing the moment with perfect comic timing, Gill shook his head and said, "I'm not going to tell you what this dumbass wrote on that piece of paper."

The audience responded with cries to read the note. So Gill says, "He wrote please kiss her so I'll get laid tonight."

And just as the laughter died, Gill said, "Buddy, if I kiss her you sure ain't gettin' laid tonight.."

One of the highlights of the evening was Gill's turns toward some of the deeper, lesser known songs from his prolific songbook. His tribute to Merle Haggard, "A Real Mean Bottle," was a serious Texas honky-tonk crowd-pleaser.

He segued into two tunes from Rodney Crowell's album with his original band The Notorious Cherry Bombs, the roadhouse-ready rocker "Oklahoma Dust" and the humorous classic "It's Hard To Kiss the Lips at Night (That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long)," which turned into a huge, raucous sing-along.

Gill then took time to play three brand new songs from his next album that proved he certainly hasn't lost his songwriting chops. The first, a nostalgic piece called "The Lucky Diamond Motel," about Route 66 and Oklahoma, contained a killer line: "an old wrecking ball just knocked down a wall/ another piece of America gone" that resonated with many.

He followed with the tragic Merle Haggard-ish "Billy Paul," about a friend who'd gone horribly wrong: "What made you go crazy, Billy Paul/ Was it true love or too much alcohol?" "If I Die" was classic Gill, soulful and spiritual but never crossing the line into schmaltz. Gill is a master of this trick.

And from there Gill just burned through a bevy of hits that got him 18 Grammys, before encoring with "Whenever You Come Around" ("I'm gonna do one more pretty song") and torching the crowd with a searing version of his hit "Liza Jane."

In the backstage meet and greet after the 28-song show, Gill was as gracious and down-home as he appears to be onstage, shaking hands, taking photos, signing get-well cards, whatever came up the line.

We fully expect this one to make our year-end list of top shows.

The Crowd: Maybe the quietest, most respectful, appreciative, well behaved crowd we've encountered in the past few years.

Overheard In The Crowd: "That's some Dire Straits shit right there!" in relation to one of Gill's blistering solos. And "We love you, Vince" (basically from about half the women in the place, repeatedly).

Random Notebook Dump: Gill played a completely off-the-wall Texas funked up version of "What Those Cowgirls Do" and went all Freddie King on the solo. Why did he change the song up so drastically? "'Cause I got tired of playing it the other way."

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