For such a soft-spoken guy, Alan Jackson isn't big on subtlety.
Performing Friday night at Verizon Theatre on his "25th Anniversary Keepin' It Country" tour, the 56-year-old singer with the Sundance Kid mustache kept hammering away on the topic of just how hayseed he really is. Opening with "Gone Country," he kept dipping into a grab-bag of similar-themed songs, including "Country Boy," "Small Town Southern Man" and "Where I Come From."
Even when the music stopped, he kept the message going. "Country music is what I'm doing," he said with a poker face.
By that point, fans began laughing at his one-note samba, and even Jackson started chuckling, too. We all get it. He won't be going pop or touring with Taylor Swift any time soon.
Not that he needs to. As an announcer explained in the unsubtle opening video, Jackson is one of country's top acts "With nearly 60 million records sold ... and 25 years of entertaining you, the fans!"
While he isn't as huge today as he was in the '90s or 2000s, his unhurried baritone sounded as rich as ever. Except for a few botched solos by lead guitarist Danny Groah, his 8-man band was flawless as it moved from mid-tempo tunes like "Dallas" (his own tune, not Jimmie Dale Gilmore's) to rave-ups like "Chattahoochee" and honky-tonk overhauls of "Mercury Blues" and Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues."
One of the biggest crowd reactions came during the weepy ballad "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." Like Paul McCartney's "Freedom" and other post 9/11 songs, it's a well-intentioned tune that hasn't aged particularly well.
He skipped over The Bluegrass Album, his most recent work, although he did debut one as-yet-unrecorded new song amid the hit parade: "You Never Know," a near-perfect marriage of rockabilly and Western swing.
As a performer, Jackson has long been in need of swing lessons. Unable (or unwilling) to dance, he tossed T-shirts and signed autographs during the many instrumental breaks, which got old after a few minutes, especially if you weren't close enough to the stage to get one.
Fans further back resigned themselves to looking at the singer's old music videos on the big screen and watching Jackson sing along with a younger, less-wrinkled version of himself. It was an odd juxtaposition that worked OK Friday night -- but in 10 or 15 years, it could start to get creepy in a twisted Dorian Gray kind of way.
Thor Christensen, Special Contributor