Kicked Outta Country, But Still the King
George Strait celebrates Erwin Center at 40
By Doug Freeman,
11:40AM, Mon. Jun. 4, 2018
When George Strait last played Austin in 2014, it was billed as the country legend’s final tour. The show’s celebratory if bittersweet aura marked the most dominant career of the genre. The Central Texan’s return to the Erwin Center on Sunday to mark the venue’s 40th anniversary thus felt like a bonus to a rafters-packed, sold-out arena.
While Strait, 66, packed up his touring saddle for an ongoing Las Vegas residency, last night’s two-hour, 30-song singalong of radio smashes proved his career far from over. 2016 saw the release of his second box set, Strait Out of the Box Part 2, for which he played a special release show at Gruene Hall that included new Jamey Johnson co-write “Kicked Outta Country.” That song received a fervent, defiant rendition locally amid Strait’s string of familiar refrains.
Equally notable from his last ATX appearance was the choice of Asleep at the Wheel to open, an infinitely more welcome set-up than Jason Aldean’s previous bro-country bow in the slot. Ray Benson’s homegrown octet prepped the headliner with classic western swing, peppered with a few surprises like an excellent cover of Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues,” slated to appear on an upcoming release later this year.
Strait likewise provided a few surprises of his own amid a torrent of hits. As he worked each corner of the in-the-round stage, he brought the crowd to its feet every time he faced their section. The early highlights of classics “Ocean Front Property,” “Baby Blue,” and Austinite Bruce Robison’s “Wrapped” were matched by a poignant cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin.”
The mid-set tribute to Merle Haggard with “Sing Me Back Home” and “Are the Good Times Still Over” suggested Strait might be thinking more about his legacy these days. Namechecking Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings in “Kicked Outta Country,” and even the singer’s Ace In the Hole band first emerging onstage to the latter country legend’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” Strait aligned himself with his outlaw country contemporaries more so than he had in the past. It’s a shirt that didn’t exactly fit, however.
Part of Strait’s appeal is the pure simplicity and universality of the songs. When he dusts towards the social and political with “Are the Good Times Still Over,” it’s jarring. At Gruene, he also covered Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “Workin’ Man Blues.”
Strait played plenty to the homestate crowd, though. Songs such as “Take Me To Texas” and the main attraction’s boyishly crooked cowboy grin never wavered, the material doing most of the work onstage as he rolled through hits with no theatrics but a genuine joy and enthusiasm. There’s not a moment that feels phoned in or taken for granted at a George Strait show.
The final five selections of the main set kept the crowd on its feet, from the always stellar “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” and “The Chair” to closers “Troubadour” and first single “Unwound.” A four-song encore lit up “The Fireman” and requisite “All My Exes Live In Texas,” and concluded the performance as in 2014 with “The Cowboy Rides Away.” Strait may be feeling left behind by contemporary country, but at the Erwin Center on Sunday night, he proved he’s forever king.
Erwin Center set-list, 6.3.18“Write This Down” “Ocean Front Property” “Cold Beer Conversation” “Wrapped” “Baby Blue” “Run” “She’ll Leave You With a Smile” “Old Violin” “Kicked Outta Country” “I Cross My Heart” “Arkansas Dave” “The Man in Love With You” “Check Yes or No” “Sing Me Back Home” “Are the Good Times Really Over” “Here For a Good Time” “Take Me to Texas” “Give It All We Got Tonight” “Give It Away” “You Look So Good in Love” “It Just Comes Natural” “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” “Amarillo By Morning” “The Chair” “Troubadour” “Unwound”
Encore:“The Fireman” “All My Exes Live in Texas” “I Saw God Today” “The Cowboy Rides Away”