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Gill, Grant work their magic

Van Wezel Performing Arts, Sarasota, Fla., March 21, 2014

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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If you believe in portents and omens from nature, then the view upon arrival was a sign of good things to come that night as the blazing Florida sun dipped majestically into Sarasota Bay, the purple-hued sky giving way to the dark as concert-goers hurried into the sold-out arena to watch Vince Gill, alongside his wife and special guest, Amy Grant, work his magic.

Filled to the gills, the arena buzzed with upbeat energy from the mostly older crowd, Gill's audience aging with him.

The stage set up was relatively bare bones, just allowing for the instruments and a simple four panel lighted backdrop that pulsed through some pixelated colors throughout the evening, providing some simple mood lighting, but nothing more than that. And it wasn't needed anyway, as Gill and Grant were the only necessary parts to bringing this evening to its positive fruition, and they did just that throughout the non-stop two hour-plus show.

It really was a fan's dream as the two traded off singing, Gill doing the heavier lifting throughout as he lived up to his guitar slinger moniker, his array of seven or eight guitars getting a workout as he sang lead, harmony and accompanied the band each and every time out.

It's was a greatest hits paradise as Gill delivered pitch perfect renderings of songs old and new, offering up tracks like "Whenever You Come Around," "I Still Believe in You" and "One More Last Chance." He punctuated those older classics with work from he and band mate Paul Franklin's most recent album, "Bakersfield," shining on the Buck Owens classic "Together Again" and Merle Haggard's "I Can't Be Myself."

Grant followed suit, reaching into her back catalog, a catalog that's almost as impressive as her husband's, delivering great performances of her hits like "Lead Me On," "Better Than a Hallelujah," "Takes a Little Time" and taking it way back, "El Shaddai." While Grant's contemporary Christian pop sounds didn't seem quite as familiar or as well received as Gill's signature work, the audience was receptive and met each track with enthusiasm and praise.

The duo relied heavily on what has set them apart as artists, namely their ability to tell honest and heartfelt stories, both in conversation and in song. Their ease with one another in full display as Grant simply sat back on a riser watching her husband sing his heart out, leading her to share, "I don't know about y'all, but that old time country music makes me want a nice cold beer right now," to Gill's explanation of how he was guided by veteran songwriter, Max D. Barnes, in the writing of his first real hit, "Look at Us." Gill infused the story with plenty of his signature humor and wit, something that characterized the night.

But perhaps the most poignant and powerful moments came when the band and Grant took a step backstage, and Gill was left alone with just his acoustic guitar, an audience and some stories to tell. And tell the stories he did, sharing about his rough and gruff father, again bringing the humor and hammering it home with the heartfelt, "Key to Life."

Up next was "Bread and Water," a song inspired by his late brother's life, and it played out almost like a hymn, drawing goose bumps and leaving the audience cheering. Nearing the end of the show, Gill, again supported by his wife and band, let loose with a soul-stirring rendition of "Go Rest High On That Mountain," bringing the audience to its feet.

Vince Gill and Amy Grant are national treasures, each powerful in their own right. And on a night bearing some bright portents of goodness and grace, Gill and Grant delivered just that, a night full of heartfelt stories and songs, leaving the concertgoers feeling a little like they'd been privy to an intimate conversation rather than just a concert.