Sing Me Back Home

Merel Haggard at the Paramount

The Hag
The Hag (by John Anderson)

You might think a Merle Haggard show at the Paramount Theatre would be a classy affair, but thankfully you’d be wrong. You can take the Hag out of the honky-tonks, but the rowdy fans still follow, and the older generations in attendance were hollering as loud as the younger last night. His set was woefully short – just over an hour with no encore – but Haggard proved in fine form at 71, the hits beyond compare.

A couple of brief opening acts built the anticipation, including some songs by Haggard’s Ft. Worth-based son, Noel, who seems to have inherited his father’s rich voice, but little of his fire. The crowd was restless and ready when Merle finally stepped on stage, contrasting the more formal dress of most of his band with blue jeans, a black cowboy hat, and sunglasses. Though starting a little rough, Haggard and the Strangers finally fell in sync with “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Big City,” rousing the crowd to sing along. His version of Blaze Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly” especially brought the cheers, as shouts of “Blaze!” rang throughout the song. He also offered up covers of Willie’s “Back to Earth” and Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Though certainly inflected with age, Haggard’s voice still possessed an emotive power, trembling above heartbroken waltzes, delicate on “Silver Wings,” and growling low and mean on “The Bottle Let Me Down,” prefaced with, “Here’s one for all the drunks in the house.” “Rainbow Stew” and “Mama Tried” were topped in reception only by rebel-rousing anthems “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee.” He didn’t set them against his more recent political invectives like “America First,” as he has done on most of his recent tours. He did manage, however, to work in an early jab at George W. Bush during “That’s the Way Love Goes.”

Returning the original swing to Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time),” Haggard laughed at the young woman who flitted her skirt down in front of the stage (“Let’s have a big round of applause for Miss Carrie Underwear here.”) and, after removing his sunglasses, flashed a mischievous grin before new song “Pretty When It’s New.” He only brandished his fiddle for a couple of tunes, and the crowd didn’t seem too upset with closer “Ramblin’ Fever,” which ended just as the house lights came up. Then again, the early finish just meant there was plenty of time to make James McMurtry’s return show at the Continental Club.

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