The country maverick slates the crowd and refuses an encore - priceless
There are superstars and then there is Kenny Rogers. The 71-year-old, white-whiskered legend of country music is a man who takes no prisoners, as tonight’s show at the Odyssey proves.
The singer swaggers onstage like he owns the place (and with 105million record sales to his credit, he no doubt could if he wanted to), delivers a roof-raising opening salvo of ‘Love or Something Like It’ and ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’, then stops the band and turns the house lights up.
After 53 years on the road, the crooner has learned how to keep things interesting for himself. He makes fun of a lady in the eighth row for using binoculars. It’s an invasion of his privacy, he says, and what the hell is she trying to see anyway? (Kenny’s strange, plastic surgery-enhanced face, perhaps?)
Then he has a go at Belfast’s vocal ability. Whereas most touring acts suck up to whatever city they’re playing, Rogers says our singing is less than impressive. We’re worse than Paris, apparently, ‘and they don’t even speak English there’.
Next, he picks out a supposedly bored-looking bloke in the front row named Mark, accuses him of not being a real fan and starts throwing money at him – one $10 bill for every of Rogers' hits he can name. Luckily for Mark, he knows his stuff and goes home with at least a hundred bucks.
He also receives a Kenny Rogers t-shirt, which the vocalist insists he puts on immediately. Rogers then instructs the rest of us to follow Mark to his car, and to beat him up if he takes the shirt off before he arrives. You don’t get this with Garth Brooks.
Later, Rogers shows a montage of his much-younger wife and their five-year-old twins, and a series of clips from 1980s TV series The Gambler, mostly of his character punching people out. If you thought Chuck Berry was the master of idiosyncratic stage behaviour, think again.
But what Rogers has going for him that old Chuck tragically doesn’t is that he remains perfectly capable of delivering his classic back catalogue in tune, in key and in time.
The setlist covers all eras of Rogers’ career, with the big guy in fine voice throughout. As well as most of his major 70s and 80s singles – ‘She Believes in Me’, ‘Coward of the County’, ‘Through the Years’, ‘The Gambler’, ‘Lucille’ – there is an outing for 1968’s supremely trippy ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’.
To give you an idea of how weird this song is, cousin-marrying, bassist-shooting wild man Jerry Lee Lewis rejected it for being too out there.
There is also some newer material. ‘This song is from an album from four years ago,’ Rogers drawls. ‘Ten,’ corrects a band member. Surprisingly, Kenny doesn’t fire the musician on the spot. He simply shrugs and gets on with the gig.