When he’s not actually singing or playing guitar, Vince Gill might be regarded as the Perry Como of country music. He’s quiet, relaxed and instantly likable, and gives the impression that he’d rather play golf than do just about anything else. He’s a fireball guitarist, though, and a singer whose style carries echoes of the “high lonesome” bluegrass sound of his early years. Without the fanfare given, say, Garth Brooks or Reba McEntire, MCA Records’ Gill is also one of the biggest stars in country music.
After two nights at the Greek Theater in Hollywood, Gill and his opening act, former Restless Heart lead singer Larry Stewart, moved to the 18,000-seat Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, where they were set to be joined on Sunday night by Tricia Yearwood.
Thursday’s Greek opening found Gill in good form, backed by his nine-piece “big band” (two keyboards, two drummers) for something like two hours, including several encores.
Among the highlight ballads: “Look at Us” (which has become a wedding song, like “We’ve Only Just Begun”), 1990’s “When I Call Your Name,” and “Nothing Like a Woman,” soul ballad in the Percy Sledge/Otis Redding vein.
Best up-tempo song, lyrically, was “One More Last Chance,” though “Oklahoma Swing,” with solos from most of the band members, was a real show-stopper.
Of the backup musicians, especially notable were steel guitarist John Hughey, who played with Conway Twitty for many years and whose aching solo on “When I Call Your Name” could have brought tears to the eyes of George Steinbrenner; and backup singer Dawn Sears, who nicely handled Reba McEntire’s part on “The Heart Won’t Lie.”
Stewart, by comparison, didn’t really get much of a chance to show off. Now recording for Sony’s Columbia label after (like Gill) a relatively unproductive stint at RCA, the one-time demo singer has a strong voice but showed little stage presence. His sharp, well-played half-hour included current “Heart Like a Hurricane” and well-received hits from his stint with Restless Heart, “Bluest Eyes in Texas” and classic ballad “I’ll Still Be Loving You.”