There was a definite Oklahoma flavor to the concert Saturday
night at the Mabee Center.
Headliner Reba McEntire and opener Garth Brooks are, of course,
Oklahomans, and one of Don Williams' biggest hits is "Livin' on Tulsa Time."
The audience of 7,500 even heard recorded music by Oklahoma's Vince Gill
Reba, however, has thrown a great deal of Las Vegas glitz
and Hollywood glamour in with her down-home Oklahoma style,
to such an extent that if you hadn't seen a McEntire concert
in a while, you might have been shocked by the goings-on.
Or maybe "dazzled" is a better word.
Reba has always had a voice that can stop you cold with
its power, a voice whose swoops and curls and melodic filigrees
have made her the most identifiable - and probably the most
imitated - female country singer working today. Add to that
a full-blown production that makes every song an event,
with banks of lights and choreography and some rather intricate
staging, and you've got all the ingredients for a dandy show.
And Reba, it must be said, looked great from the beginning,
descending a lighted stairway as curtains parted to reveal
her band members on risers behind her - two female backup
singers, a saxophonist and lead guitarist on one side, two
keyboardists, a drummer and a bassist on the other.
For the next hour or so, she and her band members - all
of whom were dressed in solid black - went from one impressively
choreographed song to another, with Reba, at various times,
coyly strutting, dancing, posing, or just sitting down and
belting it out from atop the steps.
More often than not, each song ended with a blackout, and
when the lights went up again Reba would be somewhere else,
doing something different.
There were a lot of highlights, but for my money most of
them came a little past halfway through her set, with Reba
bringing off the wistful emotion of "That Little Girl I
Knew" between two zippy tunes, the current chart-topper
"Walk On" and her remake of "Respect," the latter standing
up well to the Aretha Franklin version.
For "Oklahoma Swing," her saxophone player (here on clarinet)
subbed for Vince Gill, who sang it with her on record, and
three Tulsa swing-dance couples took the stage for some
fancy footwork while Reba made a costume change. The dancing
was great. So was Reba's entire show, right down to her
now-famous a cappella "Sweet Dreams" encore.
Don Williams and Garth Brooks both wear hats and sing some
fine country music. Beyond that, there aren't many similarities
between the two. Williams, who preceded McEntire on stage,
is a slow-talking Southerner who sat on a tall swivel chair
throughout his entire act, looking down in an almost judicial
manner. After all these years as a country star, he still
seems rather surprised that anyone would cheer for him,
or shout that they love him (as several did Saturday night).
But although he didn't move much - that was left to David
Pomeroy, his peripatetic bass player - he rolled out a fine
set, beginning with the wonderful "Good Ol' Boys Like Me"
and ending with "Lousiana Saturday Night," which strengthened
the Oklahoma connection even further, since it was a hit
for Oklahoma's Mel McDaniel.
His encore number was one of his lesser-known tunes - the
ballad "The Ties That Bind."
When's the last time you saw an opening act get two standing
ovations and an encore?
Then again, when's the last time you saw an opening act
as electrifying as Garth Brooks?
Brooks and his six-man band Stillwater did it again Saturday
night. Sure, it was a sympathetic crowd, given his ties
to Tulsa. But that can't even begin to explain the spell
he wove with his music.
There is something about Brooks that makes him unique, almost
a figure from another era. We've said it here before, but
the guy seems to be a throwback to a less cynical time,
a performer with just the right blend of humility and mischievousness,
pumped full of a wide-eyed sense of wonder and a mandate
to speak out about the things that mean something in his
life. He's got the air of a singing cowboy from a 1930s
B-picture, and the looks for it as well.
Saturday, his songs ranged from tough paens to survival
("Wolves," his encore number) to rowdy anthems ("I Got
Friends in Low Places") to articulate sentimentality ("If
Tomorrow Never Comes").
Add in headliner Reba McEntire and able supporting act Don
Williams, and you've got the best country show that's come
to town in a very long time.