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Stapleton places trust in power of song

Honda Center, Anaheim, Cal., August 17, 2018

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Chris Stapleton's unlikely mainstream country popularity has graduated the scruffy singer/songwriter from large theaters to the hockey stadiums, and one had to wonder how much this audience growth would affect his performing style. If tonight is any indicator, though, it hasn't changed much.

His wife Morgane was absent, as she's home taking care of the couple's twin baby boys, but otherwise, his band's pretty much the same. Mickey Raphael, who is usually seen with Willie Nelson's band, colored many songs with his distinctive harmonica work. Producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb was also on hand as Stapleton's second guitarist. There were no special ramps, risers or stage gimmicks. Stapleton just stayed in one spot and sang his songs. And thankfully, that was more than enough to please this audience.

The night's best part came at the end, when Stapleton sang his way through humorous band introductions while strumming the chords to "Tennessee Whiskey." He has a wicked sense of humor, it turns out, and it would have made the evening even more enjoyable had he incorporated humor throughout the night.

Nevertheless, the audience heartily sang along with "Tennessee Whiskey," Stapleton's breakthrough hit. As good as that David Allan Coe song is, though, it wasn't the best drinking song of the night. That honor goes to "Whiskey and You," a number Stapleton sang accompanied only by his acoustic guitar.

Such quiet moments were few and far between, though, because Stapleton's set was one of the loudest at this venue in recent memory. Rockers like "Second One to Know" were more representative of Stapleton's noisy setlist. Stapleton is a skilled guitarist and a soulful singer, so this material was a fine match for his talents.

Stapleton's set caught fire once Marty Stuart joined him to perform "Now That's Country" and "Honky Tonkin' Is What I Do Best." These two artists clearly enjoyed trading verses from these songs. Earlier, Brent Cobb and Stapleton performed "Might as Well Get Stoned."

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives may have been the second billed act, but they behaved like this was solely their audience. Stuart made sure the crowd was paying attention by encouraging plenty of audience participation, particularly during a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." The group also covered Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried." Drummer Harry Stinson showed off his vocal chops with a wonderful cover of Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd," which was followed by the beautifully Byrds-y "Time Don't Wait."

Brent Cobb opened the night with a bluesy-country sound like Stapleton. Cobb's "King of Alabama," his tribute to the late singer Wayne Mills, was the set's highpoint. Cobb sang it with deep love and respect.

This was easily one of the least showy country shows at Honda Center in a while. It was heartening, though, to hear folks cheering for great singing and playing. Stapleton may never approximate the energy of a Garth Brooks concert, but thank goodness he trusts fully in the power of strong songs.