Friday, March 16, 2007

After the Concert

Walking back to the hotel after the show, it was Tennyson's "Ulysses" on my mind, and the best I could recall of the great final lines:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Obviously none of the main performers has the skills he had in his prime, but the use of Asleep at the Wheel , who are still in their prime, as the core of the backup band, certainly helped mitigate that, as it provided a background of sound from players who are masters at Western swing.

Ray Price opened, doing a roughly chronological set that included "Crazy Arms", "City Lights" (which reminded me what great lyrics country songwriters wrote then), and worked its way up to "For the Good Times" and "I Won't Mention it Again". His voice is still pretty sweet and he can still hold notes. He announced at one point that he is 81(!), but that he is not the father of Anna Nicole's baby. Another nice piece of banter - he left the stage at the end of his set, and of course came back for an encore, joking, "I was coming back again anyway".

After a break and stage rearrangement, Asleep at the Wheel started a set, and I was expecting a fairly conventional arrangement of four sets, one per stated performer, perhaps with minor permutation. After two numbers (including "Route 66" which got the expected reaction when the "Tulsa City" line), Merle Haggard came out completely unannounced and joined them in "Take me Back to Tulsa", which definitely perked the audience up. Haggard then did a few numbers, and then started "Okie from Muskogee". As he reached the line "We don't wear our hair all long and shaggy", he sang instead "We do wear our hair all long and shaggy", exactly as Nelson came out on stage, and joined in. They did all wear their long and shaggy, too, especially Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. Needless to say this Oklahoma crowd was enjoying that song.

What followed was a little over an hour of mostly wonderful Western swing, a real mix of Haggard and Nelson songs, and others. This was particularly appropriate in the Tulsa that was home to KVOO's broadcasts of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (which I learned from some of Haggard's banter). Ray Price came back out and joined in for several songs, though it seems this had not been extensively rehearsed as he was working clearly off a prompter and Haggard's direction. I particularly enjoyed the swing version of "I'm going to sit right down and write myself a letter", and a trio of "Crazy". Despite the fact that neither Haggard nor Nelson have the smoothness of old, or ability to sustain long notes, Nelson's tenor combined nicely with the baritones of both Haggard and Price.

Of course with Nelson and Haggard on stage, a couple of songs were compulsory. "Pancho and Lefty" was performed decently, but "Reasons to Quit" had a little extra meaning as we all age.

One other highlight - Haggard's "Are the good times really over for good?" The whole arena sang along with the chorus, "Are we rolling downhill...". I had not realized this would be an anthem here in Tulsa, as I expected "Okie from Muskogee" and "Take me back to Tulsa" to be.

For the encore, Nelson came out and sang more in ballad style, sandwiching two songs he wrote recently recovering from carpal tunnel surgery, both featuring a recognition of vulnerability, between "You were Always on my Mind" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". And so it ended, at 10:15 pm, having started almost exactly on time at 7:30. This is why I don't go to rock concerts unless under duress; the ticket says 8pm and the featured performer appears at midnight if you are lucky. Something to be said for geriatric performers!

Some reflections.

The audience demographics were surprising, or at least not what they would have been in Toronto. The place was full of young women, along with us senior citizens. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

I'd like to have heard a little more from Asleep at the Wheel.

Listening to Ray Price's set, I recalled all that feminist literature of the '60s on how men do not express their feelings; it is clear not one of those writers ever listened to country music, but this is no real surprise, simply a reflection of our class system and different preoccupations of different classes.

Listening to Haggard's songs, I recall the outrage of many on the left to songs like "Are the good times really over for Good" and "Okie from Muskogee", which reflected nicely on the tin ear for irony that the overly ardent can have. Almost nobody in this Tulsa audience missed any of the irony, I would bet.

And my last reflection, as I mentioned above, was best expressed by someone over a hundred years ago:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--



At 10:21 PM, Blogger Linda Lee said...

Thanks for your great review! Love to hear about other people's experience of the tour.

Linda Lee


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