Vince Gill – Paramount Theatre (Seattle, WA)
Vince Gill’s latest release, These Days, is an ambitious and auspicious behemoth of a project — 43 songs on four discs surveying four stylistic corners of his broad musical persona. As such, it was quite fitting that his 2006 tour mirrored the release’s grand size and scope.
Gill took the stage at 8 o’clock sharp (and looking sharp, too, in a pinstripe suit), backed by a sixteen-piece ensemble that outnumbered Lyle Lovett’s long-lauded Large Band. His 32-song set stretched for three hours, with only a short intermission, the cavalcade of new material mixed with a few classic hits and some alternately amusing and touching stories, mostly about his family.
Any less of a performance would have shortchanged These Days, a tour de force that verifies Gill’s determination to pursue his artistic desires as he passes into the autumn of his career as a country music superstar. Gill, who’ll turn 50 in April, didn’t simply release four albums’ worth of material simultaneously as a way of cleaning out the cupboards since his last album (2003’s Next Big Thing). All four of these records are entirely worthy efforts in their own right; taken together, they’re as definitive as any venture undertaken by a roots-related musician this decade.
Taking These Days to the stage represented somewhat of a challenge for an artist as commercially successful as Gill, whose fans inevitably want to hear a lot of his old hits in concert. He did his best to appease them, opening the show with his 1993 chart-topper “One More Last Chance” and following with three more crowd favorites (notably “When I Call Your Name”, the 1990 CMA Single of the Year).
He then embarked upon the first of four mini-sets, each spotlighting a disc from These Days, with an old standby or two delivered between the quadrants to help delineate them. First up was Some Things Never Get Old (subtitled “The Country & Western Record”): Gill played five of its tracks, spotlighting the harmonies of bandmembers Dawn Sears and Jeff White on the waltz “I Can’t Let Go” and taking a brief fiddle turn himself on “This New Heartache”. Most moving was the disc’s title track, its reference to “brother John Prine” made all the more poignant by his recollection of opening a show for Prine at this very same Seattle theater 30 years ago as a member of Byron Berline’s bluegrass band.
Next up (after a crowd-pleasing croon of the overly sentimental uber-ballad “I Still Believe In You”) was The Reason Why (a.k.a. “The Groovy Record”). His ringer of a backing vocalist, Bekka Bramlett (yes, Delaney & Bonnie’s daughter), filled in admirably for album guest Bonnie Raitt on “The Rock Of Your Love”. Gill seemed most jazzed about performing the lounge-lizard piano ballad “Faint Of Heart”, but for my money, the package-title track “These Days” was the truest gem of the bunch: a sentimental love song, yes, one that forgoes overblown schmaltz for simple sincerity (“Your sweet ways/Make these days/Feel like home”).
The catalogue selections that closed the show’s first set and opened the second set — “Go Rest High On That Mountain” and “The Key To Life”, respectively — were by far the evening’s best numbers from his older repertoire. Not coincidentally, both were dedicated to family members: the former to his brother, the latter to his father (and prefaced by a hilarious story about how his dad taught him to drive).
Gill pared down the big-band lineup — which included fiddle, banjo, pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, and a four-piece horn section — to a compact bluegrass-styled quintet gathered around a couple mikes at center stage for the songs from Little Brother (“The Acoustic Record”). “Cold Gray Light Of Gone” and “Give Me The Highway” drew surprisingly buoyant responses from the predominantly modern-country-radio audience, even if both songs missed the edge that the Del McCoury Band gave them on the album. More daring was “Molly Brown”, a bluesy tune about an interracial crush that’s as lyrically bold as anything Gill has released to date.
The full band returned for “The Next Big Thing” and the subsequent five-song snapshot from Workin’ On A Big Chill (“The Rockin’ Record”). Bramlett blazed brightly on “Cowboy Up” and “The Rhythm Of The Pourin’ Rain”, while “Nothin’ From A Broken Heart” featured a guest vocal turn from guitar sideman Al Anderson (of NRBQ fame), the song’s co-author. Incendiary closing jams on “Sweet Thing” and the 1994 hit “What The Cowgirls Do” showcased the remarkable tightness of the extended ensemble, illuminating via contrast how much the majority of the evening had properly focused on the songs themselves.
For the encore, Gill tossed bones to his longtime fans with “Whenever You Come Around” and “Liza Jane” before closing with “What You Give Away”, the one big anthem from his new set. Gill has noted that his decision to release These Days as a four-album package was sparked in part by his recollection that the Beatles used to release several albums in the same year; as if to underscore the connection, he chose Beatles tunes to be played during the concert’s intermission. Thus, it seemed entirely appropriate that the chorus of the night’s final number — “No matter what you make/All that you can take/Is what you give away” — so vividly echoed one of the Fab Four’s most enduring epiphanies: “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”