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Clint Black, Majestic Theater, Dallas, Thursday, March 6th, 2014, Reviewed

Clint Black: Western Mime

Clint Black: Western Mime

There was a period in the early 1990s when country music had a major upswing.  The commercial comeback of John Anderson certainly helped, but new voices like Hal Ketchum and Alan Jackson and Suzy Bogguss and Randy Travis and Mary Chapin Carpenter seemed to be ushering in a new era – one that was imbued with traditionalism, yet contemporary in sound and substance.  Clint Black, who came out of the Houston club scene, playing for “tens of people,” became a legitimate country superstar during that time.

Last night Black performed at the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas.  The Majestic is a relatively small venue that was built in 1921 (capacity is 1,700 and it was maybe half filled); their website boasts that Houdini and Mae West and Bob Hope once graced their stage.  I won free tickets to the concert which included a “Meet and Greet” with Clint before he performed.  Once backstage, Black’s tour manager explained that there would be no autographs and that Clint did not talk before the show, in order to rest his voice.  The M&G was somewhat like meeting a Western themed mime.

The trade-off of this brush with fame is that I missed a portion of the opening set by Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis.  Much to my discredit, I had never seen them perform.  Working without a band, it was a loose, informal affair, that included a cover of The Kendalls cheating classic “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” and a moving version of the Robison penned/Dixie Chicks popularized “Travelin’ Soldier.”  When the couple harmonized, they created a sound of staggering beauty.

 

Clint Black performed his first four songs solo, playing acoustic guitar.  I thought it was odd that the second song was a Willie Nelson cover with exaggerated Nelson vocal mannerisms throughout.  As the set continued, it was clear that Black views himself primarily as an entertainer.  He tells self deprecating jokes, plays guitar and banjo and harmonica, he moves seamlessly from ballads to rockers to his version of Western swing as he demonstrates his diversity, he elongates the high notes to milk the applause.

Black still has a strong, distinctive voice, but musically and lyrically, he seldom surpasses the generic.  He released his first album twenty-five years ago, yet his setlist contained, at best, a half a dozen good songs.  He included the paint by numbers “Nobody’s Home” (as in “the lights are on, but…”) and the new banjo plus electric number “International Language of Beer” was as bad as the title sounds.  I was looking forward to hearing “No Time To Kill,” but the live version lacked the punch of the studio production.  The best performances of the night were the desirous “Like the Rain” and “Put Yourself in My Shoes,” where Clint proved the benefits of his pre-show vocal cord rest.

Black is an old pro who knows how to work a crowd, but the lasting impression is that he has focused so much on being an entertainer that it has cost him significant unrealized potential as an artist.

Grade –  C+

Setlist:

Live and Learn

Time of the Preacher (Willie Nelson cover)

I Couldn’t Believe It Was True (Willie Nelson cover)

Better and Worst

Code of the West

A Good Run of Bad Luck

Like the Rain

Nobody’s Home

When My Ship Comes In

Something That We Do

Killin’ Time

No Time to Kill

The Last Day

The International Language of Beer

One More Payment

Summer’s Comin’

State of Mind

Can’t Let My Baby Go Back Again (?)

 

Encore:

A Better Man

Put Yourself in My Shoes

Tuckered Out

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