Alan Jackson showed seniority has its privileges in country music during his show Friday night at the HSBC Arena.
While opener Lee AnnWomack came into the show with a career-making single that's crossed over to the pop charts, Jackson brought The Package: a great band, better sound, lights and video to keep everyone's attention and, oh yeah, a couple of dozen ready-to-sing-along-with hit songs from the past 12 years.
So perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise that the crowd's roar from Jackson's first song ("I Don't Even Know Your Name") dwarfed any response Womack got -- even for the anthemic "I Hope You Dance."
Jackson has a polished road show and had control of the crowd from the moment he sauntered on stage, a gangly figure in faded blue jeans (rips at the knee and thigh), black-and-white acid-dyed shirt and trademark white hat.
To say the 80-minute show ran like a greatest hits disc would be an understatement. He had enough that he was able to do a series of abbreviated versions in rapid succession midway through the show. If Womack has found her trademark single, Jackson has several, from "Chattahoochie," his song about learning of life and love by the riverside, to "Don't Rock the Jukebox" and "Gone Country."
Playing to a crowd that appeared to fill about 80 percent of the lower levels of the Arena, Jackson and his band walked the fine line between traditional country and old-time rock 'n' roll, even mocking it at times.
His band, the Strayhorns, did a Jimi Hendrixesque introduction before the band broke into "Don't Rock the Jukebox," the song where Jackson sings he'd rather hear some George Jones.
While Jackson has been around enough to be a known quantity, Womack is a relatively fresh face with just a few hits behind her.
During her 50-minute set, she showed that she has the singing ability and the songs to move mountains, but she had difficulty projecting it through the entire arena.
The musical components were all there, from an appreciation of country music history (reflected by covers of Bob Wills' "San Antonio Rose" and the Willie Nelson/Patsy Cline standard "Crazy") to a range allowing her to go from the quiet of a ballad like "Why They Call It Falling" to the yowling stomp of Buddy Miller's "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger."
But amazingly, when she got to "I Hope You Dance," the crowd never exploded as might have been expected.
There was a warm and polite response, but Womack wasn't able to translate her show into the kind of spectacle needed to get a real rise from an Arena crowd.
Some of that may have been that she didn't have the video screens or experienced band that Jackson had, but part of it was simply that Womack didn't seem to have an instinct to project the performance beyond her singing. She dutifully made her ventures to the sides of the stage to reach out to all parts of the crowd, and gave the crowd its money's worth with her voice and songs.
I'm not sure I'd want her to lose her down-home authenticity in a wash of show-biz glitz, but it was ironic that when it came to firing up the big-hall crowd, Womack couldn't dance.