Tuesday, August 21
"Ladies and gentlemen, Kenny 'birthday boy' Rogers," a booming American voice intoned as the legendary country crooner shuffled out to centre stage while a montage of images from more than half a century in music flashed on the big screen above the Riverside Theatre stage.
The Gambler was feeling every single day of his 74 years. Despite battling a sore throat, the old stager decided to adhere to a showbiz adage that even predates his earliest 1950s singles as Kenneth Rogers — the show must go on.
And if the famously husky voice was not going to be up for the ballads, then the white-maned Rogers would try to win over the packed theatre with Las Vegas-style showmanship.
After a relatively rowdy opening bracket of Love or Something Like It and It's a Beautiful Life, he cajoled a rendition of Happy Birthday from the audience before turning on the charm.
Rogers focused on Ian in the front row, offering him $US10 for each hit he recognised and slinging down the first Alexander Hamilton as a sign of good faith. "No, keep it, I've got millions," he quipped, adding that by show's end Ian would have around $US130 — but that he shouldn't spend it on Garth Brooks records.
Ian quickly collected several more bills as Rogers played a medley of late 70s and early 80s hits, including Through the Years and You Decorated My Life, before the hoe-down of fan favourite Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town. That 1969 number was recorded with the First Edition, the hairy rockers also behind the psychedelic Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), which arrived like an acid flashback later in the set.
Perhaps this was Rogers reminding us that, before the syrupy duets with Dolly Parton, Kim Carnes and Sheena Easton, he had edge, man.
But Rogers came across more like a big, silver teddy bear, especially when he dedicated To Me to his fifth wife, Wanda, and eight-year-old twins Justin and Jordan, with baby photos rolling on the big screen.
Several songs were truncated, presumably to cram more hits into the show.
This was fine for a ballad like We've Got Tonight, but cropping Coward of the County to two verses meant the protagonist went from his father's deathbed advice to "turn the other cheek" to busting up a bar-room either side of a chorus.
Thankfully we got more complete versions of The Gambler and Lucille, even if the crowd (including tennis champ and Rogers' friend Evonne Goolagong Cawley) took over singing the latter.
The finale was a disappointment: Rogers didn’t get near hitting the notes of the Lionel Richie-penned ballad Lady and his slick seven-piece band of grizzled musos with names such as Chuck, Randy and Gene raced through Islands in the Stream.
Rogers has declared this Australian tour his last, as he wants to spend more time with his young family.
Pity we couldn't part on a high note.