He’s approaching 74, there are bags under his eyes and he doesn’t have the stamina he used to. But when Buck Owens, headlining the House of Blues in one of his increasingly rare appearances away from his Crystal Palace club in Bakersfield, looks out from underneath his wide-brimmed black Stetson and starts to sing, any passage of time becomes irrelevant.
One of the architects of the Southern California country sound, Owens’ pithy, hard-edged tunes still sound better than just about anything played on country; before half an hour had gone by, he reeled off a passel of top 10 hits: “Act Naturally,” “Under Your Spell Again,” “Waiting in Your Welfare Line,” “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” and many others.
In fact, for the first hour of his 75-minute show, Owens dealt out hit after hit. Blessed with a performer’s natural ability to immediately connect with his fans, by the end of the evening, it seemed that Owens had pointed his finger, winked at or in some way acknowledged everyone in the audience. (And given the sadly half-filled room, it was possible he actually had.) He is also a professional entertainer, and the constant flag-waving that makes too many country concerts feel like soundtracks for the Fox News Channel is reduced to Owens’ signature red, white and blue Stratocaster.
The current version of the Buckaroos performs the songs with the idiomatic ease of the club band they are, loping through audience requests for relatively obscure tunes such as “Where Does the Good Times Go” and “Tall Dark Stranger,” with Owens — who initially gained prominence in country music circles as a session player — taking many of the leads originally played by the late Don Rich.
But he cedes lead vocals three times to back up singer Kim McAbee, which is two times too often. She has a pleasant voice, but she’s no Rose Maddox; the only reason is to spell Owens. But this was more than made up once Owens pulled out his fiddle — something done only occasionally — and stomped out a selection of fiddle classics, including “Orange Blossom Special.”