Alan Jackson, Joe Nichols don't fix what ain't broke
Costa Mesa, Cal., Pacific Amphitheatre, July 29, 2003
COSTA MESA, CA - In a strange bit of concert double-booking, the Orange County Fair featured Ralph Stanley playing inside the fairgrounds (for a show free with admission), while country traditionalist Alan Jackson performed at the separate-admission-priced Pacific Amphitheatre.
Had Jackson's competition been a has-been rocker - like Loverboy or Huey Lewis - it wouldn't even be worth mentioning. But since Jackson and Stanley are both diehards of the highest order, their similar show times made it a shame to have to pass up one for the other. Nevertheless, Jackson was in fine voice as usual and worthy of a blue ribbon in the country music category, to put it in purely county fair terms.
In a surprising move, Jackson's band, The Stray Horns, switched to bluegrass staples - such as Dobro, banjo and standup bass - for a semi-spontaneous performance of "Man Of Constant Sorrow" at one point. And since this song has become almost inseparable from bluegrass icon Stanley ever since the success of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," the arena crowd still received a small taste of what they were missing over on the other side of the grounds. Except for a video enhanced performance of "It's Five O'clock Somewhere," which is Jackson's current duet single with Jimmy Buffett,and a couple of changes in a few of the other video images shown on the big screens, there wasn't a whole lot that was new about this particular tour stop.
But since it's never advisable to fix something that ain't already broken, Jackson's crowd was perfectly happy with his set list of mostly hits and fan favorites.
Jackson closed his concert with "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)." And even though he's probably sung this song more times than he can even count, it sure looked like he was fighting back the tears during its performance.
Elsewhere, on a few of his faster tunes, duel fiddlers flanked Jackson. On occasion, these fiddlers became complimentary mandolin-ists. Such musical depth gave many of Jackson's tried and true numbers added richness. On ballads, such as "Gone Crazy" and "When Somebody Loves You," layered instrumentation took a back seat to Jackson's fine singing.
Joe Nichols opened this show -- which begun promptly at 7:30 PM, due to the venue's 10 p.m. curfew - and turned out to be the perfect lead into Jackson's set. Like Jackson, he's a slow talker, a slow walker and not what you might call a flashy performer. But most importantly of all, he and Jackson sport distinctive singing voices, and share an eye for first-rate material, which made his performances of "The Impossible," and his cover of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," hands-down winners.
Yet as good as Nichols and Jackson both were, it still seemed a little unfair, so to speak, to not see all the fine country talent gathered together in this one place, at the same time. O concert booking wisdom, where art thou?