Proving once again that he’s not all hat, Alan Jackson more than lived up to the title of his latest tour at the Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday night. “Keepin’ it Country,” a Waterfront Concerts event, drew a very large crowd, most of whom arrived early to defeat the snow that fell most of the day in Portland.
The veteran singer/songwriter has had enough hit tunes over his 25 year career to fill up at least two shows without repeating a song. He offered a fair sampling in a concert which ran just over 90 minutes and featured the original videos for most songs playing simultaneously above the stage while live shots of Jackson and his band played on screens to either side.
“Gone Country,” one of his livelier tales about the music scene, charged up the crowd from the start. “Small Town Southern Man” was another early favorite.
“Little Bitty” and “Country Boy” soon followed, with the 56 year-old Jackson in fine, full tenor. Instrumental breaks featured some impressive work by members of his 8-piece band. Mandolin, fiddle, piano and, of course, various guitars figured prominently. But the emphasis was definitely on heartfelt lyrics backed by solid musicianship, not the sort of flashy playing sometimes emphasized by newer country acts.
When not singing, Jackson often strode about the stage to distribute t-shirts and guitar picks to happy fans near the front. At one point, a woman called attention to a tattoo of the singer she had on her back. She was later brought up on stage and got to dance a few waltz steps with the man himself.
The middle section of the performance featured some of Jackson’s more serious songs. The nostalgic “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” dedicated to his father, was well-received as was the reflective “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” the big screen showing a 9/11 flag-raising scene at the close of the tune.
“Remember When,” one of the singer’s best ballads, was given a moving performance before Jackson finished off the show with some “Saturday night songs,” as he called them.
“Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Pop-a Top” and “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” got the crowd moving and shouting before an encore of “Mercury Blues” put the cap on a hit-filled and enjoyable visit from an artist just about reaching, if not already possessing, the status of legend.
With Grammy nominations this year for Best Country Album and Best New Artist, opening act Brandy Clark has stepped into her own spotlight after writing hit songs for the likes of Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves. She offered a brief set of tunes including audience favorites “Stripes” and “Get High.” Relatable subject matter matched with some classic country song-stylings made Clark’s performance worthy on its own as well as an excellent lead-in for the headliner.
If Alan Jackson seemed the father figure and Brandy Clark the smart older sister on Saturday night, then Jon Pardi was the hard rocking youngster on the bill. The California native likes to put it in high gear but actually had his best moments with some of his quieter songs. The good company he’s in on this tour may very well take him where he needs to go.
What: Alan Jackson with Jon Pardi and Brandy Clark
Where: Cross Insurance Arena, Portland
Reviewed: Jan. 24