Country Music Review: George Jones at the Patriot Center

George Jones is still enjoying his gigs.
George Jones is still enjoying his gigs. (Peyton Hoge)
By Dave McKenna
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 30, 2009

George Jones, the Nudie-suited Sinatra, lived up to his legend Saturday at the Patriot Center. The positive parts of the Possum's legend, that is. Jones, 77, has now outlived just about all his rowdy friends and the folks who tried to save him from himself in the 1970s -- Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette among them -- back when he was often too busy drinking and drugging to show up for concerts.

On this night, there were signs of wear and tear. Jones's stage setup included large Teleprompters and a huge box of Tums. Early in the set, he had some trouble keeping up with the band on "The Race Is On" and a few other fast-paced smash hits, as his iconic voice cracked without permission and occasionally just disappeared in the sound mix. On "White Lightning," he left out a lot of the cartoonish pops and whistles he put into the song back in 1959, when Jones had the vocal versatility of Mel Blanc.

A lesser performer, too, could have been put off playing before a crowd that filled only about a quarter of the arena. But Jones is more than a genius. He's a showbiz pro, and he still loves his job. So the performance never lagged. His phrasing remains brilliant, and the weakened voice only added poignancy to all the tear-inducing ballads in his arsenal. Chances are most folks in the stands had heard "She Thinks I Still Care," "The Grand Tour" and, of course, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" a thousand times. But Jones's singing of those tunes will still moisten their eyes quicker than pepper spray.

Jones complained a bit about the state of country radio. "Have you noticed they stopped playing the good ol' drinking songs? I can't believe it," he said. "And they stopped playing the good ol' cheating songs." As the crowd roared, Jones delivered one of his best boozy numbers, "Bartender's Blues" (a late-'70s Jones hit written by, surprisingly enough, James Taylor). Jones danced and even yelled a little during his plea to be treated as relevant, "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair."

The only downer came in the amount of retail pressure put on the fans. Even before Jones took the stage, a commercial for a hits CD was looped on a big screen, and folks (who would later turn up as Jones's band) walked through the crowd carrying boxes and hawking the disc. Once the show started, those same band members took turns making sales pitches for Jones's merchandise. At one point, Jones was introduced as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors -- "the highest honor this country can bestow upon an artist," it was called. But that introduction turned into a pitch for -- no fooling -- refrigerator magnets. Jones himself used a story about his struggle to give up booze to announce that he's now selling his own brand of bottled water on his Web site.

But just as the crass consumerism was consuming the performance, Jones, as only a stage veteran could, got everybody back on his side with an apologetic joke. "I don't need the money," he said, "but the creditors do."

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