George Jones managed to shine despite a case of the sniffles. For 75 minutes Thursday night at Bass Performance Hall, country icon George Jones wrestled valiantly with his still-bristling voice. The 78-year-old singer was battling not only the havoc wreaked upon his body during his hell-raising days, but also a far more mundane malady: garden-variety sniffles, brought on by his allergies.
Despite the struggle, Jones – who was visibly irritated and paused frequently to blow his nose, in a vain effort to clear up his instrument – still displayed glimmers of soul, flashes of the Possum connecting with staples like “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Walk Through This,” “World With Me” and “I Always Get Lucky With You.” That inimitable voice, rich with heartache, cannot be silenced so easily. Indeed, much of the evening felt like outright defiance of nature: The spirit is still willing, and the flesh isn’t given a chance to be weak.
Backed by the seven-piece Jones Boys, Jones breezily rifled through his ironclad catalog, much to the delight of the 1,300-strong audience, which greeted the East Texas native with a standing ovation and frequently hollered lustily.
It immediately gave the night something of an elegiac cast, a mood intensified by some of the brief video clips that played above Jones onstage throughout the performance.
The startling, black-and-white images of a young, strapping, wild-eyed Jones contrasted sharply with the silver-haired senior citizen standing in the spotlight, erasing decades in a moment. A montage of beloved, now deceased friends – Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty – displayed during the poignant “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” deepened the melancholy.
Jones himself articulated perhaps the most obvious pain: Nashville’s fixation on sexy young things who invest more in wardrobe than in learning the craft.
“They’ve quit playin’ them good ol’ drinkin’ and cheatin’ songs,” he observed, before dismissing the “hot young country” music of today.
He’s not wrong – certainly, the Carrie Underwoods and Lady Antebellums are far afield from the earnest, gritty output of Music City’s glory days – but the torch has not gone out completely. It’s been passed to singer-songwriters like Jamey Johnson and Hayes Carll, who still plumb life’s murkiest depths, pasting pain into lyrics and melodies.
While they excel at doing so, they cannot touch Jones’ brilliance, a man who blurred the line between life and art, only too glad to pay whatever it ultimately cost.