George jones with BARRY & SHARI SMITH at Massey Hall, April 5. Tickets: $39.50-$69.50. Attendance: 2,200. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The advance chatter about thisbeing George Jones's final tour made certain that Massey Hall would be packed with folks determined to get their last up-close look at one of the few true living country music legends. It also ensured that ushers would be earning their night's pay running up and down the aisles trying to stop unruly seniors from snapping flash photo souvenirs.Right up front, the 71-year-old Jones warned the crowd that there wouldn't be any "smoke coming up from the stage or swinging from ropes" or any of the other outlandish gimmickry that the stadium-filling stars of new country have made commonplace. Most people just seemed relieved that the notorious no-show Jones was actually present, standing upright and in a chipper mood.
Perhaps to make up for the lack of dazzling effects, a big screen was set up behind the drum kit for the projection of still images and video footage. It proved to be less of an enhancement than an annoying distraction, especially the foolish attempt to synchronize Jones's singing in a video clip with his simultaneous performance of the tune, having a techie pause the frames manually. Of course, it was always way off.
But, oh, what a voice. Despite all the drug and alcohol abuse he's endured -- not to mention that near-fatal car wreck -- Jones is somehow singing with the power, range and control of a teetotaller half his age. Although he had to glance at his teleprompter now and again to pick up a line, Jones remains a commanding presence onstage.
He's back on the wagon, yet don't think for a second that he's given up getting loaded in song. A significant portion of his set delt explicitly with drinking and cheating, which he noted with a shrug were subjects "no longer heard on radio."
He went on with his gripe, saying, "It's all love, love, love," then, catching himself in mid-complaint, paused to reconsider. "Well, there's nothing wrong with love... but you know, too much of anything ain't no good!" Well, thank you, Mr. Moderation.
He showed he could tear through White Lightnin' and The Race Is On at a jocular gallup just as effortlessly as he could convey the red-ink-underlined heartache of He Stopped Loving Her Today. It didn't make any difference to Jones that he'd sung all his lonesome blues standards thousands of times before. He could still somehow get deep inside them and make you feel the hurt. Who's gonna fill these shoes?TIM PERLICH