For a man who barely moves, Alan Jackson sure had fans dancing in the aisles on Friday night. His music does that to people.
Two steppin'. Do-si-do-in'. Boot scootin'. They were doing it all at the Sears Centre, and all Jackson had to do to get them started was tap one beige cowboy boot from side to side. What he lacked in choreography, though, he made up for with his ample supply of good-natured shuffles. He turns every town he plays into a honky-tonk. Even Hoffman Estates.
"Gone Country" opened the show, "Where I Come From" closed it. In the end, he had spent more than 90 minutes weaving lyrics about small towns, summertime and the Chattahoochee River into songs that made fans pine for that carefree life.
Packing the set list with 35 of his 50 hits, he shortened a few to fit them all in. And because Jackson's style is so unwavering, the songs from his early days fit in fine with his newer singles. Slower, softer songs such as his 1996 hit "Everything I Love" mellowed the crowd and gave folks a chance to listen to some of Nashville's best songwriting: "Everything I love is killing me/Cigarettes, Jack Daniels and caffeine."
Jackson's eight-man band, The Strayhorns, did an affable job, even though the venue itself continued its history of underwhelming sound. (The bass overpowered Jackson's vocals, and the wind machine was blowing hard into his microphone.)
While the floor seats and first tier were full, there were a few empty seats in the upper tiers. But Jackson never made mention of it. He thanked the crowd throughout the night, and with a final tip of his cowboy hat at the end, he said "Thank y'all so much. You've been mighty nice."
Many fans had come early to catch Trace Adkins saunter onstage for his hourlong set of baritone bad-boy grit. He even threw in a new one, "Hillbilly Rich," which painted a picture of the bling a guy like Adkins might get when the cash starts rolling in ("a swimmin' pool shaped like a guitar.") But while he admitted to singing mostly irreverent songs, he introduced his war-hero lament "Arlington" by saying, "We always approach this song with the utmost respect." Better still was his latest single, "Muddy Water," when he brought out a choir of nine gospel singers to help him tell the world "I ain't been livin' like I oughta/So baptize me in that muddy water."