Country was, in a way, made to be played live. Yeah, sure it’s fun and all that other jazz (oh play on genres) when you listen to it on the radio or on cd, but you really don’t get the effect of the music itself unless you’re there live. How do I know? Well, here’s a little known fact about me known to almost no one outside of…well, my mom and my cousin; I’ve been to a good dozen country concerts in my lifetime. It’s been a variety of artists, from Garth Brooks to Shania Twain, to real hicky artists like Joe Nichols and, to an extent, George Strait. I really don’t remember any of those concerts in detail, except for George Strait. Even though I was never a country fan, that concert entranced me. He had stage presence, he could actually sing, and he just got people into it.
Thus, I’ve always had a little thing for George Strait. Some people may call it a man-crush, but I like to call it a healthy liking. So, when my mom tossed me For the Last Time: Live From the Astrodome
, I was ecstatic. The album itself is a compilation of performances throughout his career, but all of which occurred at the Houston Astrodome‘s Livestock Show and Radio Event. In addition, the largest bulk of this album comes from the show previous to the Astrodome closing, when they decided to have a large country show, featuring many of the biggest superstars of the genre. To be honest, the only one I really care about is George Strait.
It’s obvious he’s played the venue often enough, as he knows exactly what songs will sound good in the atmosphere. The song selection is brilliant, not only in it’s actual content (it contains a good mix of his singles and deeper, more excellentererer tracks), but also in the level of song. He doesn’t pick one song that doesn’t feel perfectly in place with the huge atmosphere of the Astrodome. Everything also sounds perfect, but not precision perfect; while the instruments are perfectly executed, they still have that little hint of being not quite-perfect, which really helps with the honesty of it all.
And for country, the musicianship is really outstanding. George Strait & Co. have always been solid musicians throughout their careers, and Strait & his songwriters have always managed to come up with inventive uses for string sections and assorted orchestral instruments in his music (he was arguably the first contemporary country artist to do such). The individual musicians are also all spot on, especially his touring guitarists, who always create perfectly laid back and western-influenced guitar lines. They aren’t afraid to stretch out into a solo in the middle of a verse, either, and it makes for a nice element of surprise.
Of course, country music is driven by its voice, and George Strait can be taken as the
voice of country. He’s the perfect country gentlemen, smooth as silk yet as rough as a rattlesnake. Whether he’s essentially doing spoken word, yelping, crooning, or hell, just rocking out with his voice, it’s really just a treat to listen to. Of course, if you can’t stand country voices, you probably wont be able to take Strait for very long. But he’s got the perfect level of that redneck flair in his voice; more than someone like Garth Brooks, but not as trashy as Toby Keith.
The crowd interaction is also fantastic throughout the entire album. In the heavily
female dominated audience, Strait plain and simple owns and commands there every move, getting the applause and cheers right where they enhance the experience. The live show itself is also nifty; Strait’s small talk is often entertaining. He may just shoot the bull, he may introduce the President of the United States, George Bush (Sr., that is) to give him an award, or he may detail a thanksgiving spent with the president. You really just don’t know, but Strait is just such a likeable figure, you really want to know what he has to say.
All in all, this is one of the best country concert albums I’ve heard. While there are some tracks that I believe really should have snuck their way onto here, and some that should have been cut right out (She’ll Leave You With a Smile
, anyone?), the collection of songs here is in general wonderful, and the performances are flawless and feature a few nice surprises to keep you on your toes. George Strait is truly a living legend in country, and few will probably ever touch his legacy in any shape or form. He has the most no. 1 singles out of any artist of any musical genre ever, and he did it without “selling out”, which he details so well in the spectacular live performance of Murder on Music Row
. All in all, it’s a fantastic way to get into George Strait, and it’s a great live collection for anyone whose already a fan. Just don’t expect to hear uber poppy Rascal Flats tunes the whole way through. George Strait doesn’t suck.