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George Strait: less talk, more action

Reliant Stadium, Houston, August 8, 2009

Reviewed by Michael Sudhalter

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George Strait set the tone early on for his sold-out show Saturday night. "We've got a lot of songs, we're not going to talk too much," he said. And just like that Strait churned out hit after hit during a 110-minute set that combined his marquee songs from the 1980's along with some of the more recent chart-toppers.

Noticeably missing was all but one song from Strait's upcoming album, "Twang, "which will be released on Tuesday. He only played the first single from the album, Living For The Night. It's odd that a performer - even of Strait's stature - does not make an effort to promote new music on the eve of its debut. But that was just another victory for the legions of Strait traditionalists.

Strait kicked things off with the playful Write This Down and then eased into an old favorite, Ocean Front Property

He mentioned that he was glad to record a song a few years ago that was originally done by one of his heroes, Merle Haggard. That song, The Seashores Of Old Mexico was mellow, yet a crowd pleaser - and a song that Strait's been performing live long before he recorded it.

One of the biggest applauses of the night came during If It Wasn't For Texas when Strait dropped "Texans" in place of "Cowboys" when talking about the Super Bowl. It was a rare miscue for Strait to pander to the hometown crowd - mostly because the Texans have never made the Super Bowl in their eight-year history and don't appear to be headed there any time soon; unlike the Cowboys, who have won football's biggest game five times.

The country legend made up for it with the high-energy of Honk If You Honky Tonk and Heartland.

The pure emotion on The Chair and the twin fiddles on Amarillo By Morning made it clear that Strait was right to play these oldies instead of some new tunes for the sake of self-promotion.

A four-song encore included the forgettable High-Toned Woman and the classic yet appropriate The Cowboy Rides Away with a pair of cover tunes sandwiched in between - Haggard's Cherokee Maiden and Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues. Strait's voice - and the Ace in The Hole Band - did an excellent job on the former, but his voice isn't as deep as Cash's, and that's what makes the song a classic.

Sugarland opened up with a 70-minute set of high-energy country music packed with tight-harmonies. They started off the set with songs like Settlin' and Want To, but Jennifer Nettles often explained what the song was about beforehand. This was unnecessary, considering that most of the songs are pretty self-explanatory. The duo performed a respectable, twangified version of Pearl Jam's Better Man, which appeared on their "Live On The Inside" album, released last Tuesday.

During Everyday America, Nettles mixed in snippets of Madonna's Holiday and The Emotions' Best Of My Love. Kristian Bush sang Jon Bon Jovi's part on the duet, Who Says You Can't Go Home, but the highlight of the set was the emotional ballad, Stay, which contained just as much energy as the music video.