What a relief that Vince Gill is so likeable and deeply talented. Otherwise, his four-hour show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Thursday night (April 5) might have been an exercise in endurance. After all, people have run marathons in shorter times.
Gill efficiently mined his lengthy catalog of hits and offered a broad variety of songs from his recent four-disc boxed set of all-new material, These Days. With a reasonable intermission and a casual rapport with the very full crowd, the night seemed more like a club show where the band plays a few hours, and then everybody takes a break before coming back for more.
Striding on stage with a 16-piece band, Gill kicked off the night with “One More Last Chance,” followed by “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slipping Away” and “Oklahoma Borderline.” The lively horn section added a unique dimension to these familiar songs, but the brass was scarcely missed when Gill shifted into ballad mode. No matter how many times his most dedicated fans have heard “I Still Believe in You,” it still packs a punch, as does “Pretty Little Adrianna,” inspired by a murdered child in Nashville. With only a few band members joining him, these beautiful melodies took center stage.
Plus, it’s incredibly refreshing to hear stage banter besides, “How y’all doin’, Nash-VIIIIIILE?!” or “Are you ready to RAAAAAAWK?!”
Instead, Gill spent quite a bit of time reminiscing about comical times with his late father, his numerous country heroes and the stories behind the hits. He also talked about struggling for several years in Nashville before finally securing a big hit, “When I Call Your Name.” After a mighty fine rendition of that modern country classic, the crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation, which caught him off-guard. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had that kind of reaction to that song,” he said, slyly noting that this was how country music is supposed to sound.
After tendering “Look at Us,” he turned to the “country & western” (his words) disc from These Days. He suggested that somebody ought to pitch “If I Can Make Mississippi” to George Strait. Introducing “Some Things Never Get Old,” he recalled hearing Emmylou Harris’ voice for the first time on a Linda Ronstadt record and swearing it was Dolly Parton using a pseudonym. He declared that Harris’ “Bluebird Wine” was “the first record that pointed me” — encouraging a twisting musical journey that ultimately led him to Nashville. He then presented “Out of My Mind” (which he said always reminds him of Conway Twitty) and brought back the horns for “Don’t Pretend With Me.” He teased that the sassy tune “might make a stripper out of me — but I can’t lift my leg that high anymore.”
Actually, Gill looked dapper and fit in a flattering grey suit. After “The Rock of Your Love,” he hiccupped during “The Reason Why.” When the song was over, he admitted, “Seven Krispy Kreme doughnuts is no way to start a show — even when the hot light is on.” Then he conceded he hasn’t eaten one in a year, so he can show restraint when he needs to. He wrapped the first set with more new songs (“This Memory of You,” “These Days” and the seductive “Faint of Heart”) and another fan favorite, “Go Rest High on That Mountain.”
During the second half of the concert, he told a few more silly stories, then provided bare-bones versions of “The Key to Life” (with a pleasant banjo melody by Charlie Cushman) and the outrageous “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night.” He cracked himself up early on when a woman got up and marched out at the first mention of the song’s tag line, “…that chews your ass out all day long.” Trying to regain his composure, Gill said that’s the best reaction he’s ever had to that cheeky song, which he recorded with Rodney Crowell as part of the band, the Notorious Cherry Bombs.
Gill surrounded himself with bluegrass musicians for “All Prayed Up,” “Cold Grey Light of Dawn,” “Give Me the Highway,” “Little Brother” and “Molly Brown.” The horn section returned to juice up “Next Big Thing,” paving the way for the “greasy and nasty” songs (his words again) from These Days, including “Rhythm of the Pouring Rain,” “Bet It All on You,” “Nothing for a Broken Heart” (which prompted two senior citizens to boogie in front of the stage), “Cowboy Up” and “Sweet Thing.” The second set concluded with a rousing version of “What the Cowgirls Do.” Without hauling out any “surprise guests” — who often show up at Ryman concerts — the second set moved as quickly as the first, with the crew and musicians admirably keeping pace the whole night.
Of course, he couldn’t get away without an encore, despite having already played 33 songs. Before singing a note, he graciously thanked his band and crew for their hard work and extensive rehearsal during the six-month tour, which is taking a break after this show. “It paid off in a big way tonight and I’m grateful,” he said.
He also referred to the Ryman, where he gave a similar show the previous night, as “the greatest place in the world to play music.” Even after so much singing, much of it above a horn section, no less, he sounded magnificent on “Whenever You Come Around,” then capped the night with “Liza Jane” and his new single, “What You Give Away.”
Last year, it seemed somewhat odd that Gill would release a boxed set of new material when he could have easily filled up a similar collection with dozens of hits. But his most devoted fans who stuck around till nearly midnight happily realized — for this tour at least — the two sides don’t need to be worlds apart.