The Austin Chronicle

The Gospel According to Jones

By Doug Freeman, October 7, 2011, 2:50pm, Earache!

Let’s get one thing straight. George Jones is a legend. George Jones is one of the greatest country singers and songwriters to ever grace God’s own Grand Ole Opry. I’d never seen Jones perform before and was so excited to finally do so that I spent the entire day listening to damn-near his entire catalog. What I should have been doing was drinking.

It’s really what a George Jones show demands, and well, frankly, about the only thing that would have made Thursday’s show at the Moody Theater marginally bearable. So having given the caveat that we all recognize Jones as the indispensable pillar of country music that he is, and that the man has raised more hell and drawled out more heartache than all of contemporary Nashville combined, the below observations are presented for what can only be described as a rather sad and disappointing show.

1: Sure, we all know that Nashville country stars these days are all flash, with the stage shows to match. But this? This was just awkward. A screen was set up behind the stage that played through slides accompanying each song, sometimes coming across like a cheesy video you’d see in a karaoke bar, other times just slideshowing through pictures of Jones in his prime and with his current wife, Nancy Sepulvado.

For one thing, you would have thought from the pictures of his wife (and the fact that they accompanied his most heartbroken songs) that she had passed away, which isn’t the case at all. But the bigger problem here was that this “multimedia experience” seemed to have been developed in 1983 and hasn’t been upgraded since, save for a few new photos. Do I want lasers at a George Jones show? Hell no. But can we at least get a living legend a visual artist that knows how to use iMovie or something?

2: Which brings us to the second point. This entire show felt like Branson, Missouri had come to town for the evening. In fairness, maybe Jones is simply playing to his own demographic, but the set felt like a rote routine that should have been accompanied with a cheap steak buffet.

I’ve never been to Branson, but this is pretty much exactly how I’d imagine it: a time-capsule stage setup stuck in 1978 while the performers age within it. At the end of the day, I don’t feel it does justice to either the artists or their songs, but rather just creates an odd dichotomy of forced nostalgia that really isn’t even that effective or enjoyable to watch.

3: Between the opener and Jones’ set, there was a weird moment when an MC came out on stage to push a live CD to the crowd. The guy was just shy of an auctioneer, with the screen at back of the stage contributing to the infomercial intermission. By all means, sell your merch if you’re an artist (country stars, especially the older ones, are always very conscious and good about this), but the QVC-ness of this particular approach was just a little sad. But there is also likely a reason they were selling the live CD before Jones’ show, which is …

4: Jones really, just plain and simply, can’t quite sing anymore. Not to denigrate a legacy, but Jones, even with the help of back-up singer support and a sing-a-long crowd, at best muddled his way through the set. He has the advantage, of course, of his songs being instantly recognizable, but otherwise they would have largely been unintelligible. There were moments, as on “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, when the emotion of the tune could still compensate for the execution, though it may have been that by that point, we’d all had enough drinks under our belts to not really care anymore.

5: Houston singer-songwriter Robert Ellis opened the evening and was quite impressive. He just released his debut for New West Records this year, Photographs, and he’s certainly worth catching should you have a chance.

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