The King of Country took on the role of “The King of Broken Hearts” Saturday night, bidding an emotional and engaging farewell to Oklahoma City.
George Strait embarked on his “The Cowboy Rides Away Tour” Friday night with a home-state show in Lubbock, Texas. The second stop on his 2013-14 farewell trek was the sold-out Chesapeake Energy Arena, where he has reigned as a top concert draw since the venue opened in 2002.
As usual, Strait put on a frills-free show designed to spotlight outstanding singing, songwriting and musicianship. He and his excellent opening act, Martina McBride, along with their strong respective bands, performed in the round on a massive diamond-shaped stage in the center of the arena floor. Employing just a few light effects and video screens primarily used to show the performers, the concert was a far cry from the high-tech spectacles favored by many contemporary country acts.
With their long, platinum-gilded careers, Strait and McBride could have made their sets veritable hit parades. Instead, the veteran vocalists mixed in playful covers and deep album cuts with the expected fan favorites.
McBride opened her 70-minute crowd-warming set with the feisty toe-tapper “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues” and kept the proceedings sassy with “Wild Angels,” “My Baby Loves Me,” “This One’s for the Girls” and her recent top 20 single “Teenage Daughters.”
“I’m the luckiest girl in the world ‘cause I get to tour with George frickin’ Strait,” declared McBride, who looked sassy in a red leather jacket over black jeans, a black scooped-neck top and tall black boots with skinny skyscraper heels.
The Kansas native told the packed house that one of her favorite parts of planning a tour is choosing cover songs, and she wowed the crowd with her crystalline country version of Etta James’ “At Last” and got fans wailing along with a medley of the Cat Stevens classic “The First Cut Is the Deepest” and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”
“We’re not clapping; we’re snapping. It’s the new thing. All the cool kids are doing it,” she quipped before launching into a lively rendition of “King of the Road,” paying double tribute to her tourmate and the late, great Erick-bred singer-songwriter Roger Miller.
She even broke out a harmonica for her bluesy ballad “Love’s the Only House.” But the songstress was at her best belting soaring love songs and heartbreaking anthems like “Whatever You Say,” “A Broken Wing,” “Concrete Angel” “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” and her big finish “Independence Day,” which not only highlighted her big voice but her skill at delving into the emotion of each song.
The night only got more emotional as Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band took the stage following a pair of video tributes, one featuring country superstars like Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton and Alan Jackson wishing King George well on his farewell tour and another highlighting his myriad career accomplishments.
The Country Music Hall of Famer, 60, got his final Oklahoma City show off to a spirited start with the title track of his 2011 album “Here for a Good Time” and the title cut from his 1987 record “Ocean Front Property,” setting the tone for his career-spanning two-hour-plus set.
“Hello, Oklahoma City. It’s so good to be here tonight,” Strait greeted the crowd, who showered him with deafening praise for virtually every song. “Probably my last one here and that’s sad because I’m gonna miss you. Thank you for coming and thank you for coming all those years, too.”
There’s a curious formality to a George Strait concert. After he straps on his black acoustic guitar, the superstar performs two songs at one point of the diamond-shaped stage before methodically moving on to the next point and two more songs. Fans in each quadrant inevitably get to their feet as the king moves to their point on the stage.
On his first turn around, Strait offered a mix of hits and cuts from the latter half of his three-decade career: “Check Yes or No,” “ I Saw God Today,” “A Showman’s Life,” “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright” and “Drinkin’ Man,” which he proudly announced he co-wrote with his song Bubba and longtime collaborator Dean Dillon. He quickly proved he still has the worn-leather rich voice and potent country charisma to hold an audience in his thrall.