September 27, 2008
Informal Gill mixes it up
By Chris Varias
Before playing any music or saying anything else, Vince Gill began his concert with the following disclaimer: “This is the most informal show you’ll go to in your whole life.”
That would be a true statement if you had never attended a performance by Black Flag or George Clinton or David Allan Coe or about 10,000 other acts. But for the average Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra subscriber or Gill diehard, his Friday-night show at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall could be called informal in the sense that the country star did as much talking as playing and wasn’t afraid to verbally mix it up with the crowd for the sake of humor.
Billed as “a special acoustic evening,” the two-set, two-hour-plus show resembled an episode of VH1’s “Storytellers.” Gill plugged in an electric guitar for a few songs but mainly played an acoustic one and was backed by an upright bass player, percussionist and keyboard player. The intimate musical arrangements put the focus on the lyrics, which Gill set up with a joke or a poignant memory in each song’s introduction.
As for the jokes, he was really on a roll during the first half of the show. If anyone could use a little comic relief, it’s Gill, who likes his musical groove slow and lovelorn. It came off like a series of one-liners occasionally interrupted by spurts of high-lonesome light rock. Imagine Henry Youngman and Ronnie Milsap trading five-minute sets.
Gill: “I asked somebody the other night, ‘Have you heard my last record?’ They said, ‘I hope so.’”
He had a million of ‘em: “If you play a Glen Campbell record backwards he gets Tanya Tucker back.” OK, maybe you had to be there for that one, but he got lots of laughs out of it.
My favorite: “I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I thought I was going to have to suspend the tour and go to Washington, D.C. to solve the economy.”
In between the laughs of the first set were such favorites as “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” “Tryin’ to Get Over You,” “Pretty Little Adriana” and “Pocket Full of Gold.”
The tone of the second set was much more somber in terms of the storytelling-performing dynamic. The high watermark was “The Key to Life,” a song about Gill’s late father that’s filled with line after line of plainspoken sentiment. Gill preceded the performance with several stories about his dad that illuminated their particular father-son relationship. It was a clinic on how to pull off the “Storyteller” act.
Gill also paid tribute to John Hughey, his longtime steel-guitar player who died last year, with a new, bluesy composition called “Buttermilk John.”
On the happier side of things were Gill’s recollections about joining the Cincinnati country-rock band Pure Prairie League in the late ‘70s and spending time in town between tours. He capped off the memories with a performance of the band’s biggest hit, “Amie.”