Monday, October 20, 2014

CONCERT REVIEW: Rolling the dice on the Gambler

Posted By on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 12:03 PM

When I was a kid, Kenny Rogers was in the midst of a monster run of hit songs that transcended labels like "country music" or "pop." He was basically an omnipresent musical force thanks to a parade of best-selling albums in the late '70s and early '80s like The Gambler and their affiliated feature films, TV specials, Kenny Rogers Halloween masks and the like. 

Nowadays, of course, he's more well-known for his Geico commercial, people trying to look like him and posting their pictures to the web, his somewhat frightening plastic-surgery results and his popular chicken joints, Kenny Rogers Roasters. Even though I've never lived anywhere where Kenny's restaurants reside, they did inspire a great Seinfeld episode: 


Rogers still tours quite a bit, and his visit to Spokane Sunday night offered me the chance to see how his oldies act measures up to some others I've seen — both good (Tony Bennett) and bad (Wayne Newton). Not only would it be my first time seeing the Gambler in person, but it was my first visit to the Northern Quest Resort & Casino since moving to Spokane last month. 

It being a Sunday, the dealers around the casino were all wearing football jerseys. It was a nice touch, although dropping a few bucks at a blackjack table was made all the worse by losing to someone dressed as Tom Brady.

Entering the Pavilion for the show, an usher told me to "head toward the Jack of Spades" to find my seat. I half-expected people dressed as playing cards a la Alice in Wonderland, but alas, it was just signage once I hit the ballroom-turned venue. 

Taking my seat next to a couple of excited Kenny fans downing hot dogs and talking excitedly about their high hopes for the new Dumb and Dumber sequel, I settled in and watched the old videos playing in lieu of an opening act. There was no sound, and most were taken from his early-'80s heyday. There was Kenny singing with Dolly Parton. With Sheena Easton, with Dottie West, with Kim Carnes. Other than Dolly, it was a cavalcade of "where are they now?"

Rogers hit the stage to a rather muted response from the full room of the mostly Social Security-eligible fans, and the video images we had just seen made the reality all the more striking. He moved gingerly toward center stage as his band lit into "Love or Something Like It" followed by "It's a Beautiful Life." He couldn't seem to move well at all, and even turning to face different parts of the audience seemed difficult. I started to sense the night might be a long one of me wondering if Rogers would tumble off the stage. 

Then a funny thing happened — Rogers turned his age and physical state totally to his advantage. He cracked jokes about the age of the audience — "You'll all be happy to know those are the two loudest songs I know," he announced after his first two tunes. He remarked that his limp was due to getting a knee replaced a few months back, "and they replaced the wrong knee!" He cracked wise about the men dragged to the show by their wives, and even gave one guy up front $10 for every song he could name, continually throwing bills at him throughout the show. 

He had two giant video screens on either side of the stage, so clearly he wasn't concerned with folks seeing the age on his face. This was my view of the proceedings: 

click to enlarge kennyrogerscropped.jpg

And Rogers' voice? It's actually in pretty good form. He was always a raspy guy, so the ravages of age haven't really changed it that much. Songs like "She Believes in Me," "Ruby," "Coward of the County," "Lucille" and "Daytime Friends" all sounded just fine, although he mashed some together in abbreviated form in an effort to fit as many hits into the show as possible. There were even some pleasant surprises. He covered John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me." The band added accordion for a song he recorded with Buckwheat Zydeco for his 2013 album, You Can't Make Old Friends. And he did "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)," his pre-solo hit with his old band First Edition. You might remember it from The Big Lebowski


All told, a good show, ending with his solo take on Dolly duet "Islands in the Stream." It wouldn't be shocking to see Rogers make his way to town again. As long as that knee holds up. 
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