So there I was in the Salt Palace, waiting for Kenny Rogers to sing, clutching pen and paper, counting on my daughter to do the yelling for us and feed me the names of the songs.
Nothing makes a classical reviewer feel more exposed than no printed program for a prop; but I didn't realize quite how exposed, until the expected waves of soprano screams pierced the air, obscuring both words and music."What's the name of that song? What's that one? And that one?" I hissed, until Marty's eyes rolled back in her head. All I had going for me was the conviction that I really do like Kenny Rogers, so everything was bound to turn out O.K. And sure enough, it did.
If you didn't like Kenny Rogers before, a live concert with him could hardly fail to make you a believer. This Great Communicator works a crowd like no one I've ever seen. Round and round his little ramp he bounds, cracking jokes that never stray off-color, cajoling and scolding his audience, beaconing applause and basking in the waves of love they send back.
Gray hair surrounds a ruddy, jolly face, and within his expensive white leisure suit his body crackles with energy, as he sings in a reedy tenor that's somehow exactly the essence of the man. Everything about Kenny is natural and unaffected, precisely what you wanted to hear, and everything he does delights you during a generous hour of song.
Up from the pit, riding the strains of his big backup band, come gusts of steam that create a healthier ambience than smoke. (You can afford your own climate control when you're rich.) These and a few laser beams stabbing the blackness, a few electronic art squiggles on black screens, constitute his few props.
The songs are the thing, and great songs they are, songs that even I know the names of. "Love Will Turn You Around," all zippy and sassy, followed by a medley of love songs, simple, sincere and just enough sentimental - "Through the Years," "You Decorated My Life" and "She Believes in Me."
"Let's Go Out in a Blaze of Glory" smacked boldly of country gospel, and the bouncy "I Miss the Days When We Were Crazy" recalled the nine years Rogers spent with First Edition during the psychodelic '60s.
"Don't You Know I Love You" featured the Rogers wobble that seems to send his fans wild with delight - a sort of audible strobe light. That and some fun with "Bo Diddley" and his echoes, the ubiquitous (but never tiresome) "The Gambler," and "You Picked a Fine Time, Lucille" sent everyone home vastly entertained.
Restless Heart is a significant young band that revels in synthetic sound, produced by its fine musician-entertainers. They warmed up the crowd with a rapid rotation of effects, trading off on keyboards and guitars and singing up a storm (though almost indistinguishable above the din).
Most of their program came from four top-rated albums, the first of which was from 1985. From their most recent, "Fast Movin' Train," came the hustling title song, the swingy "Dancy's Dream," and "Long Lost Friend," a pretty, heartfelt ballad now topping country charts.
"The Bluest Eyes in Texas" had a great country beat. The galvanic "Wheels," and an early hit, "Let the Heartache Ride Tonight" with its driving energy, gave the sense of a group that has come up the hard way, and typifies the here and now.