Live Review

Vince Gill

Vince Gill on December 31, 1969

When the Country Music Hall of Fame honors an act with the request that they be its single annual "Artist In Residence" the featured performer and producing ringmaster for a series of special shows at the Hall the selection itself implies that the artist is comfortable as an emcee. In the case of Vince Gill, the inducted Hall of Fame member and 20-time Grammy winner drafted for this year's series, there was no doubt about the emcee cred. This is, after all, the "mischievous, irrepressible Vince the Menace" (as Hall & Museum Director Kyle Young introduced him at the first show), who was the relaxed, witty and arguably irreplaceable emcee of the nationally-televised CMA Awards for years.

And in these first two residency shows staged for a couple hundred lucky attendees, not millions, the between-song repartee was fast and pointed. "One of the good things about being old," Gill announced, "is that you've got a lot of songs. Some of the new rich kids only have about three!" After all of the new self-penned songs he introduced on his recent box set, and more on these nights, the point was well made.

For the record, Gill will be 52 in April, and the shows whether mainly with a backup band, as on February 3 (Pete Wasner on keyboards, Billy Thomas on the suitcase-like cajon drum, Mike Bub on bass), or almost entirely solo acoustic, as on February 17 were not designed to be musical laugh-riots. There was a marked accent on the personal and contemplative side of the Gill repertoire, the songs he's written (or in some cases, that his many friends have) which touch on his relations with his father, his wives, his kids, his friends and with music.

Not that there weren't sequences of songs which reminded us of Gill's extraordinary material range and reach reflected, too, in the impressively varied makeup of the audiences on hand. In an early first-show sequence, he went directly from the hilarious honky-tonk of "It's Hard To Kiss The Lips A Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long" to the very touching "These Days", concerning the peace that wife Amy Grant has brought into his life, and then into some typically ear-boggling electric guitar behind guest artist Danny Flowers on the pulsing "Tulsa Time", and on to the celebrated hymn and eulogy for his late brother, "High On That Mountain". The sheer competence displayed in his ability to deliver that sequence aside for the moment, Gill's comfort with all of those tones, and his commitment to their content, reveals a performer for whom the music doesn't fill a role in life; it marks and reflects the totality.

That said, much of night two, which featured brief guest appearances by two singer-songwriter friends lyricist extraordinaire Guy Clark and the melody-rich Gary Nicholson was devoted to intimate and revealing solo vocal and guitar performances, including such strong newer songs by Gill himself as the mischievous (there's that word again) "Lucky Diamond Motel" and a stunning take of the results of child abuse, "Forever Changed". (Clark introduced some strong new ones, too: "Hemingway's Whiskey" and a catchy keeper co-written with Nicholson, "Some Days You Write The Song (Some Days The Song Writes You)".

Asked by someone in the audience to sing his favorite song as a solo-night encore, Gill responded with his multi-decade buddy Rodney Crowell's "'Till I Gain Control Again". They'd first met, he divulged, when Rodney heard Vince sing the song at a Los Angeles show. "Thanks for indulging me with this quiet evening," Gill added on the way out. (A third sellout performance is set for February 24.)