Vince Gill appeared upbeat and blissful Saturday evening at AmSouth Amphitheatre in Nashville, where he gave his only public concert of the year. Sunburned and dressed as if he just stepped off the golf course (which of course, he did) he exclaimed, “I’m that happy guy. My name is Vincent Grant Gill.”
“What’s your name?” came a catcall from the audience. Smiling, Gill bantered, “What’s my name? Er, Chris something . . . my name is Chris Dill!” apparently a reference to Garth Brooks’ recent gambit of adopting alter ego Chris Gaines.
Gill good-naturedly played to the audience during his nearly two-hour set, a listener appreciation concert for WSM-FM radio. He took extended guitar solos and leaned on pop and rock more heavily than country, which was a bit unexpected given his recent urging in song to “kindly keep it country.” There was no pedal steel onstage and the fiddle and mandolin were not as prominent in his arrangements.
Gill’s high, pure tenor was in rare form. He moved the audience with ballads such as “If You Ever Have Forever in Mind” and “Let’s Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye,” the title track from his latest album. His new wife, singer Amy Grant, joined him in a song they co-wrote, “When I Look Into Your Heart.” The happy couple gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes and sealed their performance with a kiss. Gill performed several other songs from the new album including “Feels Like Love.” Marriage has given him a new lease on life; Gill told the audience several times how happy he is.
Daughter Jennifer, who Gill said “just turned 18 on May 5,” joined her proud papa for “That Friend of Mine” and then sang lead on Sarah McLachlan’s ballad, “Angel,” with Gill harmonizing and playing acoustic guitar.
Gill turned contemplative on “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” a tribute to his brother, and “Hey God,” which he wrote for his friend, golfer Payne Stewart. He stripped down the arrangement to just two guitars on “Key to Life.”
Turning up the energy just prior to a long encore that seemed to begin midway through the show, Gill rocked out on “What the Cowgirls Do” and “Down to New Orleans,” jamming for several minutes with his band. Gill also showed his bluesy, soulful side on “There’s Nothing Like a Woman” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.” He closed the crowd-pleasing show with a hard-driving version of “Liza Jane.”
Opening act Rebecca Lynn Howard pranced and strutted through her set, singing songs from her self-titled MCA debut. Standouts were the bluesy, growling “Out Here in the Water” and “Was It as Hard to Be Together,” co-written by Howard and Carl Jackson. Jackson and singer-songwriter Larry Cordle joined her to sing harmony. In a set dominated by power-country and pop values, the masterful country ballad ranked as her best of the evening.
The 21-year-old Kentucky native possesses a set of pipes as powerful as Martina McBride’s, but she has a tendency to oversing, sometimes relying a little too much on vocal gymnastics to get her through a song. Her band was quite competent, especially backup singer Robin Lee Bruce. The harmonies they created were compelling. Howard only needs to put a little more emphasis on phrasing, creating a mood rather singing through it.