Vince Gill does it all
Country superstar and band are dazzling
By Steve Metsch
There were many memorable moments in Vince Gill’s concert Thursday night at the Chicago Theatre.
There was his banter with and eventual silencing of a loud obnoxious woman sitting near the front of the stage. There were amusing stories from his 45-year career that could be the basis for an autobiography. There was his heavenly voice. And there was the guitar playing that proved once again why Gill has to be on the short list of guitar greats.
But the one moment that stood out for me was a simple segue.
While he and his outstanding band were playing a recent hit, “Down to My Last Bad Habit,” the bass line started to slightly change. Eventually, the song was using the bass line from the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why.” And Gill eventually began playing the subdued, lovely guitar solo that makes that tender love song so special.
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The moment seemed lost on many. Only a smattering of applause was heard when he began changing the song. And that was it. He made no mention of touring with the Eagles, who signed him on in 2017 to replace the late Glenn Frey. No mention of playing last October with the band at the United Center, or touring the country. He didn’t mention the Eagles at all, and simply let his guitar do the talking.
It was pretty cool, although I couldn’t help but smile when I wondered if spending a year or so on the road with Joe Walsh was indeed Gill’s “last bad habit.”
That said, Gill played 28 songs that spanned much of his career, included a couple cover songs, and five songs from “Okie,” his new CD, during his two and one-half hours on stage.
Vince Gill and his band delivered a superb concert at the Chicago Theatre. Photo by Steve Metsch.
If you’ve never seen him, you should make a point of correcting that glaring flaw in your concert-going resume. Gill, 62, is incredibly talented. He writes songs, still has that wonderful voice, and, as mentioned, plays guitar with the best of them.
He and his seven-person band kicked off the show with “One More Last Chance,” a bouncy number that dates back to 1993 and still sounds good. He followed that with “What the Cowgirls Do,” another oldie but goodie.
Being from Oklahoma, it was fitting he covered The Notorious Cherry Bombs’ “Oklahoma Dust,” which turned the stately old theater into a big honky tonk.
A couple songs later, he was being interrupted by the fan. “You like my sweat?” he asked. “I’m too old for that shit. I still got it but I can’t use it.” A few songs later, he grew tired of her and told her that if she thought she could do better, she should hop onto the stage. And that was that.
He asked the audience permission to take off his sportscoat, saying “I’m sweating like a pig up here,” and adding that he was wearing “a Philadelphia basketball T-shirt.” Permission granted, in this Bulls town: The fans didn’t seem to mind.
Nor did they mind hearing the former No. 1 country song, “I Still Believe in You,” which Gill wrote with keyboardist John Jarvis in 1992. It’s as beautiful as ever. The huge hit “When I Call Your Name,” released 30 years ago, meant “we could go from a van to a bus.”
While the old songs sounded great, so did the five he played from his new CD.
“A World Without Haggard,” he said, was written the morning his idol, Merle Haggard, died. He noted that it’s not often you become friends with someone you idolize. Other new songs included “I Don’t Wanna Ride the Rails No More,” an ode to a hobo; and “When My Amy Prays,” a tender love song about his wife of 20 years, Christian singer Amy Grant.
“A Letter to My Mama” is just what the title claims. It’s based on a letter Gill wrote to his mother. It sat in a desk drawer for decades and he wanted to record it for his mother, now 93, before it was too late, according to a Sept. 6 story in the Chicago Tribune.
Also in that story written by Chrissie Dickinson, Gill discusses the song “Forever Changed.” He played it Thursday after a brief introduction saying it is about sexual abuse.
It is based, the story says, on an incident from his own youth when a coach placed his hand on Gill’s leg. Gill ran from the room before anything else could happen. In the song, the victim is changed to a girl, but the message is still very powerful, how an abusive action can forever change someone.
Almost a reluctant superstar, Gill was happy to share the spotlight with his bandmates like Jedd Hughes, a guitarist who opened the night with a powerful 25-minute acoustic set. His “Crazy Old Man” is a great song. Gill also gave props to steel guitarist Paul Franklin, who in 2013 released the “Bakersfield” album with Gill. They covered songs made famous by Haggard and Buck Owens. And on Thursday, they played one from each legend.
Backup singer Wendy Moten was superb singing a cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” along with Ernest Tubbs’ “Driving Nails in My Coffin.”
Just when we thought the concert was winding down, Gill surprised us by playing more songs that were more uptempo. Each featured Gill playing extended solos. His inner rock guitarist was let loose. I think he played a different guitar for every song Thursday night. He’s like Rick Nielsen, minus the checkerboards and baseball cap.
Gill even snuck in a little tribute to the late Duane Allman by playing part of his famous solo from one of the Allman Brothers’ greatest moments, the instrumental song “Jessica.” The band closed with a rollicking take on “Liza Jane” in which each member had time in the spotlight.
“What a great show” was heard many times as we exited, new CD in hand.
If you missed this concert, and are have Saturday night open, it’s only 90 miles or so up to the The Riverside Theater in Milwaukee.
Email Steve Metsch at email@example.com