When country star Garth Brooks played the Times Union Center last spring, he charged around the stage like a touchdown-scoring athlete and wrangled a spinning drummer’s cage like a bull-rider. The year before, Blake Shelton worked a long catwalk during his show at the same arena, slapping hands and taking selfies with fans like a professional glad-hander.
There were no special effects or gimmicks of any kind when Alan Jackson brought his Honky Tonk Highway Tour to the arena on Saturday night, unless you count Jackson occasionally pausing to toss guitar picks and rolled-up white T-shirts to the audience.
Instead, Jackson wore his old-school, country music bona fides like they were the only attraction needed during a nearly-two-hour show filled with well-received songs from his 30-year career.
The crowd, packed to the rafters and swarmed with fans in cowboy hats, was reminded of Jackson’s musical pedigree just before the show began, as a video screen flashed highlights from the country statesman’s career, including his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame last October by Loretta Lynn.
Jackson, a two-time Grammy Award winner and seller of over 60 million records, then walked out on stage with little flash and said “How y’all doing tonight?”
The 59-year-old Georgia native, playing a sunburst guitar with ornate gold trim, wore a dusty-white cowboy hat, faded blue jeans and a black Western shirt, embossed with a swirling design. His eight-piece band, the Strayhorns, provided steady backing, all business and traditionalism, adding weepy steel guitar, piano, backup vocals and fierce fiddle and guitar picking.
There was a nostalgic vibe, with each song accompanied by the original video, which meant lots of scenes of Jackson in the 1990s, when he had long blond hair, before his mustache got a little gray.
There was young Jackson hovering in front of New York City landmarks like the Empire State Building before “Gone Country,” wearing overalls and no shirt and riding ATVs on the Eddie Cochran cover “Summertime Blues,” and standing on top of a rusty pickup truck during “Country Boy.”
“They wanted me to play y’all some real country music. … Jump up and dance, have a drink, just have a good time,” the ever-humble-seeming star said before his ode to storybook romance, “Livin’ on Love.”
About midset, Jackson sat on a stool with his guitarists for a mellower bit. He called out a relative in the crowd, his nephew, who lives in Albany, and spoke about his earlier days, struggling, until he scored his first No. 1 hit, “Here in the Real World.” He also did a newer number, “The Older I Get” and played a Zac Brown song, “As She’s Walking Away.”
Then he lost the stools for the second portion of the show, which included some of his more rocking hits: super-catchy “Little Bitty,” signature-hit “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” drinking tune “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” and encore “Mercury Blues.”
Country singer-songwriter Randy Houser, who just performed in Schenectady in February at Rivers Casino & Resort, got the crowd singing along to “Like a Cowboy,” his 2015 hit. The Mississippi native wore a black hat that said “Saint” during his opening set, which closed with “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight.”
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