Currently as hot as she’s ever been in a 22-year career, Tanya Tucker has been selling platinum, and touring constantly. Saturday night’s Universal Amphitheatre gig showed the result of that hectic schedule with a slightly below-par performance. With a voice and material as strong and distinctive as hers, though, even subpar Tucker is several notches above most other contemporary, faceless country singers.
Singer has amassed enough hits since 1972’s “Delta Dawn” that she was able to pass up several No. 1s while plugging her current Liberty Records album, “Soon,” with singles including title number and forthcoming “Hangin’ In.” Much of the material during her 70-minute set was cheerfully bouncy,including some of the more serious tunes — though when she did slow down for the likes of “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane,” she was both effective and well-received.
Other than the perhaps unexpected “What’s Your Mama’s Name” and “The Jamestown Ferry” from when she was a 14-year-old sensation, set included no real surprises, though, or material that she hasn’t recorded. She worked in plugs for sponsor Black Velvet whiskey and her own exercise video, but refrained from mentioning her line of women’s clothing.
Band, featuring Walter Garland on lead guitar and (for “San Antonio Stroll”) mandolin, turned in strong instrumental work and vocals. Always a very physical performer, Tucker danced around the stage and kidded with unflinching security guards, but show seemed somewhat perfunctory.
She’d played Texas the night before, Tucker confessed well into the show, and appeared on an early-morning TV show at the top of the day. Also, she was experiencing problems with her wireless microphone and earpiece. If nothing else , she may have learned that a high-profile L.A. appearance is worth resting up for and taking some extra time with the technical aspects of the presentation.
It was difficult to see where Black Velvet’s sponsorship fee went: Staging, other than a few Vari-Lites, was bare-bones; ticket price was hardly a bargain. Maybe Tucker pays her band and opening act especially well.
Opening was ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, a regular on the country music circuit (including several appearances on the “Hot Country Nights” TV variety series). Working with foils including purple “woozle” Peanut; Jose the jalapeno on a stick; intellectually challenged Southern kid Bubba (who enjoys playing White Trash Trivial Pursuit, where the only categories are “stock car racing” and “beer”); and crusty curmudgeon Walter, Dunham kept the three-quarters capacity audience laughing for nearly an hour.