After more than 50 years in show business, Kenny Rogers can do a concert in his sleep and it would be entertaining. But it's even better when the recording superstar gradually awakens to an appreciative audience, as he did at CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center on Sunday night.
Rogers, one of the most popular and best-selling recording artists of all time, has a style and a voice that defies the effects of time. His hits--and there are dozens--are appealing for the stories they tell and the passions they evoke. The melodies rarely require great range. At 74, they flow as smoothly today as they did decades earlier.
Whether it's the plaintive story of Lucille or the vulnerability of Why Don't You Stay?, Rogers infuses each number with honesty and feeling. At the same time, he's not afraid to tease the audience or poke fun at himself.
Recounting the themes of many of his hits, stories about family strife (Ruby, Lucille) or infidelity (Daytime Friends and Nighttime Lovers), Rogers observed, "I have had an incredible career singing about dysfunctional families."
At the end of the show, he rewarded one member of the audience with a souvenir T-shirt. "I signed it before the show," he joked. "But with a couple of washings, it'll come right out."
Among the score of songs in his hour-long concert, were three from his First Edition days: Reuben James, Something Burning and I Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In). During the latter, he promised something akin to an acid flashback. Behind him, a video screen showed footage of Rogers, nearly 50 years earlier, performing the number with the First Edition.
After the number, Rogers spoke the lyrics ("I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and followed it in..."). "Young or old," he smiled, "I think we can all agree they just don't write songs like that."
Later, he chided the sold-out crowd which, despite enthusiastic applause, failed to measure up to Rogers' expected level of exuberance. Only a handful rose to the exhortations in Stand Up. "What's wrong with this picture?" he asked. "We'll give you one more chance and that's it."
Projections of the First Edition performance weren't the only video reminder of the long arc of Rogers' career. As he sang The Gambler, the screen flashed clip after clip from the five TV miniseries on CBS in which Rogers played the hero of his ballad.
Whether that career arc can be stretched even further is anyone's guess. Another one of the songs Rogers performed, Buy Me a Rose, reached No. 1 status in 2000, making him, at 61, the oldest performer to reach the top of the charts. (That record lasted only three years before it was toppled by a 70-year-old Willie Nelson who, coincidentally, performed at CSUN just a few weeks earlier.)
With few exceptions, Rogers' selection were monster hits. They needed no introductions and, by and large, they didn't get any. Anecdotes were few and far between.
What was important for most was just the opportunity to see and hear one of the great musical legends of the 20th century. And Rogers--no gambler when it came to song selection-- supplied that in spades.