Country veteran Vince Gill likes to pepper his concerts with plenty of jokes and a plethora of serious songs.
For instance, on Friday night at the sold-out Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, there was the line about just turning 62 and visiting the doctor, who advised no more than two fast songs in a row.
But there was serious talk, too, especially when Gill introduced a song from his new album, “Okie.”
He spoke of the first time he sang “Forever Changed” at soundcheck and how it caused a woman in his band to cry. “She said it was her story,” Gill recalled.
Then the singer-songwriter talked about how a stranger approached him at an airport recently and thanked him for the song because the man had been abused as an alter boy.
And then, perhaps to everyone’s surprise, Gill related his own experience about having been a 7th grader on the 8th grade basketball team and the coach calling the youngster into his office and making advances. Gill ran.
With rapt attention, 2,600 people listened as Gill sang the opening stanza: “You put your hands where they don't belong/ And now her innocence is dead and gone/ She feels dirty, she feels ashamed/ Because of you, she's forever changed.”
Never has a Gill song been more emotional, powerful and poignant. And he’s recorded plenty of them in all categories over the years.
That song about sexual abuse – plus other pointed numbers from his new album – helped to make this an exceptional, wonderfully human and musically rich concert that stretched to a generous 140 minutes.
Beyond the humor, personal stories and 29 top-notch songs, what made the concert special was that Gill, always an accomplished but economic guitarist, stretched out a few times, for a change.
Typically, when Gill solos, he takes one or two passes, as musicians say. But he took guitar journeys on “Down to My Last Bad Habit” (languid Southern soul style), “Adrianna” (very Duane Allman-ish), “Ode to Billie Joe” (lonely country blues) and “Oklahoma Borderline” (speedy chicken-pickin’ with subtle changes in rhythm).
And his pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin was outstanding all night long, as well, seasoning songs with the right emotions, earning enthusiastic ovations in mid-song.
Props, too, to backup Wendy Moten who stood out on lead vocals on “Ode to Billie Joe” and the churchy stomp “Driving Nails.”
Vocally, Gill still has that masterful high lonesome sound, which sounded pristine and pretty on “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” one of many highlights.
Gill did covers of songs by his heroes, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, but nothing by the Eagles, with whom Gill toured in 2017-18. However, at times his voice hauntingly evoked that of the Eagles’ late Glenn Frey.
Nonetheless, the biggest takeaway is that Gill -- a 21-time Grammy winner who was a big country star in the 1990s -- is an enduringly talented old-school music-maker who still sounds timeless and fresh at the same time.