When George Jones took the stage at the Murat Theatre on Saturday night (Sept 17), there was an air of awe mixed with melancholy. Jones is 80 years old, and with the country legend’s voice more raspy than ever, this may be the last full show tour of his career.
Here’s one thing I know about Jones: In the early and mid ’70s, his voice was always on my Grandma’s radio. I would stay at her house all night, and her country radio always played the crying pedal steel and drink-my-troubles-away country music of Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Ray Price, Red Sovine, and Merle Haggard.
All night long. That’s my DNA with country music. I expect many listeners had similar experiences, particularly if they hail from a part of the country that had respectable country radio.
Now to the show, at which Jones delivered a nice mix of old and more recent hits, fronting a crack seven-piece band that made the ride easy. Band members brought some energy — a dance step here, a silly, over-the-top face-mugging for audience affection there. The pedal steel cried appropriately, the fiddle fit perfectly, and the country Telecaster was clean and precise.
Jones’s best moments were a song about his Dad, “The Man He Was”; the weeper “You’re Still on my Mind”; the kicked-up “White Lightnin'”; the anthemic duet “Golden Ring”; and a wasted medley that still included good stuff, like a bit of “She Thinks I Still Care.”
The painfully beautiful “He Stopped Loving Her Today” closed the set, after which came a one-song encore of “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair.”
Jones’s nickname of “No-Show Jones” no longer seems appropriate. He’s an elder in the house of country music, and his wild days of riding a lawnmower to the bar replaced by an advanced age that now sees him taking, as he put it from stage, “all kinds of pills, for every part of your body.”
Jones satisfied the more-than-half-full crowd — the theatre was about 70 percent filled with a mix of hard-core fans mingling with those who wanted to see a legend. “I love you George” rang out repeatedly from audience members during the 90-minute show.
Here’s what the Indy show was: a night with a legend who may never travel this way again. A dip into timeless country songs. A chance to remember 30 or 40 years ago, when you were listening to the radio, and when his one-of-a-kind voice was the authentic, swaggering, soulful sound of country music.