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George Strait: The Cowboy Rides Away

The King crowns the Frank Erwin Center on his farewell tour

By Doug Freeman, 11:57AM, Sat. Jan. 11

The screams for George Strait last night at the Frank Erwin Center – Austin stop of the Cowboy Rides Away tour – were louder than those for Sir Paul McCartney at the same venue last May.
The screams for George Strait last night at the Frank Erwin Center – Austin stop of the Cowboy Rides Away tour – were louder than those for Sir Paul McCartney at the same venue last May.
photo by Gary Miller

“I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone,” declared George Strait on “Troubadour,” a raw, rich twang near the end of his two-and-a half-hour set Friday at the Frank Erwin Center. The 2008 hit served as a fitting farewell as Strait begins the last leg of his final tour, culminating in Dallas this June.

With the screens above him flashing photos from his storied career throughout the song, Strait looked up and watched with an amused smile, the same genuine, crooked country grin peering out beneath a cowboy hat at 61 as the hungry kid brashly branding his traditional style on 1981 debut Strait Country.

Though popular country music may have changed drastically over his 30-year tenure as the King – evidenced by the dramatic contrast of current radio superstar Jason Aldean’s emphatic spectacle of an opening set – Strait has remained the genre’s compass, last year marking his 60th No. 1 hit. Even with a 33-song set-list, the Poteet native could still only skim the depth of his catalog.

Performing in the round with the 11-piece Ace in the Hole band gathered centrally, Strait worked each corner of the stage in two-song segments with no flash or hurry. The opening round marked a string of familiar staples, running through “The Fireman,” “Ocean Front Property,” “Marina Del Rey,” and “Easy Come Easy Go” as he pulled both plaintive and playful with the long-sold-out throng singing along.

Aldean re-emerged to join Strait on “Fool Hearted Memory” and “Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her,” both songs doing credit to the younger songwriter more than his own set could, but Strait needed no help stirring the rafters with the double punch of the poignant “You Look So Good in Love” followed by a winking “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls.”

Perhaps most remarkable was the vibrancy of Strait’s voice throughout the epic set. Though each song was delivered with a consistency that matched their familiar studio versions, his vocals remained equally sharp and subtle, whether diving low and textured on “Drinkin’ Man” or smoothly drawled on “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”

He proudly highlighted several songs written by his son, including “Arkansas Dave” from 2009’s Twang, and featured a couple new tunes from last year’s Love is Everything (“I Got a Car” and “Give it All We Got Tonight”), before rounding into the close of the set with the fan-dedicated “I’ll Always Remember You.”

“Troubadour” brought the farewell set to its climax and full circle with Strait’s first single, 1981’s “Unwound.”

Providing a four-song encore to say goodbye to the Austin stage he estimated to have played 15 times, Strait delivered a requisite “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” and finally allowed the band to break down into a jam of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Strait then bid goodbye with “The Cowboy Rides Away,” curiously sliced by the band with a riff from “Suspicious Minds” that may have been one retiring King paying homage to another.

Set-list, Jan. 10, 2014, and photo gallery:

1) “The Fireman”

2) “Check Yes or No”

3) “Ocean Front Property”

4) “Marina Del Rey”

5) “Blame Mexico”

6) “Fire I Can’t Put Out”

7) “Easy Come Easy Go”

8) “Here for A Good Time”

9) “Arkansas Dave”

10) “Fool Hearted Memory”

11) “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her”

12) “River of Love”

13) “You Look So Good in Love”

14) “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”

15) “I Saw God Today”

16) “I Can Still Make Cheyenne”

17) “Drinkin’ Man”

18) “That’s What Breaking Hearts Do”

19) “I Believe”

20) “Give It Away”

21) “Eighty Proof Bottle of Tear Stopper”

22) “Amarillo by Morning”

23) “The Chair”

24) “Cowboys Like Us”

25) “I Got a Car”

26) “I’ll Always Remember You”

27) “Give it All We Got Tonight”

28) “Troubadour”

29) “Unwound”

Encore

30) “Same Kind of Crazy”

31) “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”

32) “Folsom Prison Blues”

33) “The Cowboy Rides Away”

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