George Strait and Reba McEntire at Wells Fargo Center
By Sam Adams...Philadelphia Enquirer
Philadelphia, PA....As it turns out, a George Strait show isn't the best place to hype up the crowd with a chance to meet Taylor Swift. At the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, WXTU's Andie Summers set the stage for Strait by connecting Strait, his tour mate Reba McEntire, and emergent superstar Swift, the prize in a forthcoming on-air contest - country music's 'king,' 'queen,' and 'princess,' respectively.
But the audience, evidently more fond of Strait's deep-rooted western swing than Swift's crossover pop, was having none of it. The mention of Swift's name set off a chorus of boos that tapered off only when Strait's band kicked into its first song.
In blue jeans, a work shirt, and a black cowboy hat, Strait embodied the essence of hard country, as it was before the likes of Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney reworked it to incorporate the clichés of arena rock.
By contemporary standards, Strait's 90-minute show was practically bare bones. Eschewing strobe lights and video screens, he performed from a bare stage placed at center court, with a microphone at each of its four corners, switching compass points every two songs like clockwork. The stagecraft was low-tech, but it produced the desired effect; fans erupted each time Strait moved into their quadrant.
Strait drew several times from his solid 2009 album, Twang, but for the most part, he focused on the hits. With nearly 60 No. 1 singles in a career spanning almost three decades, that still left him plenty of room to spread out, from the tongue-in-cheek bravado of 'Ocean Front Property' to the wistful romance of 'The Chair.'
While the music drew on country's diverse roots in folk, blues, and jazz, Strait never lost track of his identity as a rugged romantic who's still learning on the job.
Reba McEntire is a more protean creature; her video introduction showed her singing on Broadway and blasting giant sandworms in the movie Tremors. As she proclaimed via the theme song to her six-season sitcom, she's a survivor, with dozens of chart-topping singles and a brassy personality that never flags.
McEntire's endurance record made her an inapt fit for the emotionally damaged narrator of Kelly Clarkson's 'Because of You.' But fortunately Clarkson herself turned up to guide her elder through the song's more fragile passages.