in performance: alan jackson/josh turner/chris young

alan jackson last night at rupp arena. photo my matt goins.

alan jackson performing at rupp arena. photo by matt goins.

There exists few more unpredictable beasts on the Rupp Arena performance calendar than the country mega-concert that falls on a Sunday night.

Can such an outing pull from the same devoted rural fanbase that it would on a Friday or Saturday? Would it pack the same level of performance intensity? Would it mute the level of audience reception? Would it be an engaging evening for audience and artist alike?

The answers at last night’s Alan Jackson concert were thus: No. Yes. No. Not really.

The attendance was the key: 6,000 – roughly 1/3 less than what the Georgia country traditionalist usually packs into Rupp. The figure is only marginally better than what Jackson drew less than two years ago when he played Applebee’s Park – on a Wednesday.

Not that any of this impacted Jackson’s onstage persona. By his own admission last night he remains a “laid back” performer. The 90-plus minute set bore a slightly more reserved air than usual, though. After a sluggish start with a completely phoned in Gone Country, a tune that now seems to serve as little more than a band warm-up, Jackson adopted a richer conversational tone for Summertime Blues, Livin’ on Love and, later on, a quietly elegant A Woman’s Love.

How did the audience take to all of this? Hard to say. A country music Sunday at Rupp comes complete with beer sales. And last night, business was booming. Given the somewhat modest size of the crowd and Jackson’s thoroughly un-rowdy demeanor, it was a little dispiriting to discover so many pockets of stealth inebriates in the arena.

That factor played into a lengthy sit-down segment where Jackson broke the performance down into a sort of songwriter session. Bits of nearly a dozen hits were performed along with introductory stories a la a VH1 Storytellers special. Aside from the fact that he only offered a verse or two of such sterling country works as Here in the Real World and Don’t Worry About Me, it was a fine retrospective exhibition.

But the segment was long and numerous audience patrons voiced their restlessness either vocally or by simply leaving (the show, with opening acts Josh Turner and Chris Young, was already hitting the three hour mark). Jackson even had to hush a few eager fans near the stage that continually yelled out for Chattahoochie as if they were in a bar.

So, no, audience and artist weren’t always on the same page for this one. Jackson’s often stoic performance probably would have translated better (or, at least, been received more graciously) in a theatre environment. Regardless, an audience has to go a little easier at the ol’ watering hole to make a show like this work anywhere.

Turner’s 45 minute set sported a crisp sounding band and a neo-traditionalist vocal drive capable of sinking to deep bass depths. Too bad his material was so pedestrian. Aside from the expert spiritual Long Black Train and the efficiently rootsy Firecracker, which echoed the muse of country icon Johnny Horton a bit, Turner’s set boasted one coy come-on tune after another.

Young’s blink-and-you-missed-it set (roughly 20 minutes) boasted a livelier repertoire but also a more standardized, pop-rockish sound. Songs like That Makes Me and Gettin’ You Home were exuberant enough, even if any real country sensibility played second fiddle to generic pop accents.

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