His “No Show” days are behind him, but George Jones still makes plenty of sport about his unreliable wild streak of drink and drugs.
Before his concert on Saturday at the newly opened Venue at UCF Arena, a member of his entourage came to the microphone and told the crowd that he had an important announcement: “George Jones is here.”
Also at the arena: An assortment of souvenirs, all along the lines of the T-shirts emblazoned with “I Saw No Show Jones.” In a 30-minute opening set, emerging country singer Jason Byrd punctuated a Jones reference with the aside that “he’s here, by the way.”
OK, we get it.
There was so much of that shtick that it began to look like a clever way to lower expectations for an aging icon that has been mostly forgotten by country radio. It was left to the man himself to prove that he does more than just show up.
In a generous 90 minutes, Jones pretty much did that.
He talks a lot about traditional country and it’s way different than watching Brooks & Dunn. For one thing, the seven-member Jones band plays at a remarkably restrained volume. It doesn’t rock the house, but it does favor subtle touches such as the interplay of pedal steel guitar and fiddle. No problem hearing the voices either, which is really the point of catching this guy in the first place.
The sound mix was hospitable in the 1,500-seat Venue, actually a retooled version of the old UCF Arena tucked behind the new 10,000-seat one. Other initial observations: It’s cozy with good sight lines, but the journey upstairs from the floor to the concession stand is a hike.
On stage, Jones, 77, looked winded on faster songs such as “The Race Is On” and his voice tended to crack in the higher register. Yet the passage of time has only heightened the impact of the heartbreaking ballads that have defined his 50-year career.
His voice still tugged at the heartstrings on “Bartender’s Blues,” “I’m Not Ready Yet” and a medley that tied together “The Window Up Above,” “She Thinks I Still Care” and others.
A video screen behind the band augmented songs such as “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes.” That one, a tribute to timeless stars such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, was a reminder that Jones belongs in that same royal company.
And when he launched into the magnificent, melodramatic grandeur of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Jones demonstrated that he does more than just show up.