Imagine, if you will, AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” done as a straight-up country song. That’s just what Chris Stapleton made it Saturday at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center.
Paying tribute to AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young, who died that day, Stapleton brought out opener Brent Cobb and his guitarist and turned the rock 'n' roll anthem into a slow country song — and somehow it worked.
That was one of the surprises Stapleton delivered on what was his final show of 2017, a concert that ran well over two hours and, most notably, included the first performances of at least two songs from the album he’ll release next week.
Stapleton had been playing a couple of songs from "From a Room: Volume 2," the record on the tour. But Saturday, he said, "We’re goin’ deep.”
Indeed, he and his band did, playing, by my count, six of its nine songs. They included a driving “Midnight Train to Memphis,” and the debuts of a lovely ballad titled “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight,” and the night’s killer song, “Drunkard’s Prayer.”
Done solo on acoustic guitar, the mournful “Drunkard’s Prayer” is an instant true country classic — key line “I get drunk and talk to God, and say I’m sorry for all the things I’m not.”
The bearded, burly Stapleton hasn’t changed much since he opened for Eric Church at Pinnacle Bank Arena in May 2015. Then, he and his three-piece combo — wife Morgane on backing vocals and tambourine, bassist J.T Cure and drummer Derek Mixon — were in the middle of a runway, playing songs from “Traveller,” his just released album, to a crowd that largely had no idea who he was.
But the songs, like the title cut, “Outlaw State of Mind,” “The Devil Named Music,” “Fire Away” and “Tennessee Whiskey” really connected then. And they did the same Saturday — only this time, the throngs were at the arena to see Stapleton, now a two-time Grammy winner and recipient of multiple country music awards.
The most recent of those is the Country Music Association’s Best Male Vocalist award. That’s an understatement. Stapleton is a brilliant vocalist who can sing the deepest twang country and then go full Al Green soul on songs like “I Was Wrong.”
And that number turned into a 5-minute blues jam with Stapleton, an underrated guitarist, Cure and Mixon really working it out.
Stapleton, as opener Marty Stuart said, is the real deal and it’s heartening to see him draw 13,500 to a packed arena — a sign that traditional country, for lack of a better term, has made a return to popularity.
The Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart’s group, would be my pick for the best band in country music. The Nudie-suited crew is drummer Harry Stinson, one of the best backing singers in Nashville who wowed the crowd with his lead vocals on Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”; ultra talented multi-instrumentalist, Chris Scruggs; and Kenny Vaughan, the greatest guitarist in country and maybe the world’s greatest guitarist.
Together they can deliver “Hillbilly Rock” and classic country with aplomb — they even pulled off a cool, non-cliched cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” And Stuart’s an entertainer who can play a mean mandolin. Their 45-minute set Saturday was about 45 minutes too short.