It’s never been hard to like country music legend Alan Jackson, the person, who has projected an easy-going, affable and down-to-earth persona since his 1990 multi-platinum-selling debut album, “Here in the Real World.”
On Thursday night, Jackson reminded everyone why he’s hard not to appreciate as a musician thanks to 34 No. 1 hits, of which he played most for his sold-out Pechanga audience.
Jackson’s nearly two-hour concert was filled with 26 tunes ranging from some of his earliest work to his latest hits, like the sassy line-dancing hit “Good Time” and award-winning Zac Brown Band collaboration “As She’s Walking Away.”
Jackson, accompanied by an impressive eight musicians and singers, walked out onto Pechanga’s outdoor stage shortly after 9 p.m. The county superstar’s opening montage didn’t mince words as video boards flanking each side of the stage showed the probability of a “Small Town Southern Man” ever achieving a No. 1 hit, which it said was about 1 in several million. The video montage then started ticking down Jackson’s 34 hits one by one. Point taken.
While the opening was impressive enough as far as facts go, it wasn’t until Jackson let loose his powerful, familiar and unwavering vocals for everyone to realize why he’s still selling out shows.
Jackson immediately launched into “She’s Gone County” as he walked on stage, throwing guitar picks to the waving hands, which he did throughout the evening.
The upbeat, more honky-tonk “Summertime Blues” followed – just before he paused to thank Californians for their support of his career over the years.
“I’ve sold more records, I think, in California than anywhere else in the county,” he said to enthusiastic cheers.
Jackson then kicked off a pattern of presenting a ballad followed by a fast-paced tune for much of the middle portion of his set. The feel-good, ballad-esque tune “Livin’ On Love” was followed by the knee-slapping “I Don’t Even Know Your Name.” Jackson’s classic ballad “A Woman’s Love,” featuring a beautiful keyboard-based bridge, was followed up with the swayable “Small Town Southern Man.” The sing-able “Tall, Tall Trees” preceded Jackson’s touching ballad “The Blues Man.” The latter featured some beautiful guitar, pedal steel guitar and mandolin solos from the supporting band members.
Jackson’s lengthy set also included the full-loving “Who’s Cheatin’ Who,” new “fun heartache” summer song “Long Way to Go,” upbeat “Little Bitty” and “Country Boy.”
Jackson seemed to only improve as the night wore on like during show highlights such as “Drive,” which he explained was originally written in honor of his father after he passed away about 10 years ago.
The poignant song featuring Jackson’s crystalline, hammer-dropping vocals was followed by the powerful “Where Were You (As the World Stopped Turning),” which seemed especially moving with 9/11’s upcoming 10th anniversary in September. Jackson recovered the party atmosphere by following up with country’s classic “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.”
Perhaps one of the best moments of the evening came when Jackson and three other band members sat down on stools to play some of the country superstar’s oldest hits, including his first “Cowboys Don’t Cry,” followed by “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “It Must Be Love,” which included a chill-inducing a capella moment, and “Remember When,” which showcased some moving harmonies.
Jackson ended things with all up-tempo hits, including fan favorite “Good Time,” “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” and “Chattahoochee.” “Where I Come From” was accompanied by video footage of popular local watering holes, restaurants and businesses in the Temecula area. It was a nice touch for the audience who cheered over seeing South Coast Winery, Lucille’s and street signs like Rancho California Road.
Jackson wrapped things up performing fan favorite, “Mercury Blues,” as his encore piece. The consummate entertainment scaled the entire length of the stage during the tune’s instrumental part to sign cowboy hats, tickets and cowboy boot after cowboy boot. Jackson even signed a Nike sneaker, over which he had a chuckle.
“You’ve been mighty nice,” Jackson said, thanking his crowd.
What was nice was hearing decades-worth of hits in a chill, relaxed show where the audience appreciated the power of a well-crafted country song.
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