MUSIC: George Jones gets down to business at the Silverton

    He’s a legend — of liquor, women and rancor.
    Most of his peers in the country music ranks these days are like near-beer compared to a Heineken  — they’re O’Douls; they’re the virgin margarita.
    In other words, they’re safe — may as well have been made by Nerf — and that’s something that George Jones will never be, even at 77, with a whiskey-ripened midsection hanging over his belt and the stiff gait of a man with starched joints.  
    “Have you heard this new hot country radio?” Jones asked during a sold-out show at the Silverton on Friday night. “They quit playin’ them good ol’ drinkin’ songs.”
    But not this guy.   
    “I like drinkin’,” he announced. “I was tempted at an early age.” 
    Yeah, Jones has settled down considerably since the days when he was showing up late for gigs — if he bothered to show up at all — and getting busted by the cops for this incident or that (at the Silverton, old photos of Jones getting arrested and being surly with the police were shown on the giant screens at the side of the stage).       
    “There’s a time I’d stay here two-three days,” he quipped of his Sin City surroundings.
    Nowadays, Jones’ wizened, burlap voice cracks upon occasion and he struggles to catch his breath.
    “I’ve been havin’ a little wind problem,” he noted at one point.
    But he’s still a commanding presence onstage, donning his trademark black shades, singing songs about empty bottles and broken hearts.
    From hand-clappin’ honky tonk (“Why Baby Why”) to pedal steel-flecked dust-ups (“Bartender’s Blues”) to gospel-style exhortations (“Me and Jesus”) to the stray Merle Haggard tune (“I Always Get Lucky With You”), Jones’ set was loose and diffuse, the opposite of the market-tested, controversy-free pop that’s come to dominate Nashville these days. 
    Playing before a mostly older crowd, where the ladies dabbed at their eyes on songs like “One Woman Man” and the fellas gripped their gals tight, Jones’ show felt a little bit more nostalgic than it probably should have -– it’s not his fault that the country music powers-that-be sold acts like Jones down the river long ago.   
    After all, the man still has plenty of fire left in his slightly more substantial belly, and he continues to swig from a bottle of “White Lightin’ ” — only now it’s his own signature brand of drinking water. 

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