Kenny Rogers is an artistic alchemist. He's managed to transform a limited set of skills into a startlingly successful career.
Rogers lacks the eccentric brilliance of Willie Nelson, the musicality of Barry Manilow and the magnetism of Elvis Presley. As if by magic, however, Rogers has improbably synthesized the most ingratiating elements of these more gifted men into a persona that has made him one of the most commercially successful recording artists of the last half century.
At this stage in his illustrious career, Rogers, 72, needed to do little more than amble onto the stage of the VooDoo Lounge at Harrah's Casino to satisfy Friday's capacity audience of approximately 700. The opportunity to bask in his radiant presence would have been sufficient for many of his longtime fans. As an old-fashioned showman, however, Rogers offered almost ninety minutes of songs, jokes and stories. His stage patter may be carefully scripted, but it's far from stale. He acknowledged the composition of the audience early in his entertaining show.
"I bet I could point out with a great deal of accuracy the men who didn't want to be here tonight," Rogers kidded.
He also gently teased overly enthusiastic women in the audience.
"I think binoculars in the first 10 rows are an invasion of privacy," he suggested upon spotting one aberrant fan.
Rogers' speaking voice was hardly distinguishable from his singing. It didn't matter. His haggard growl has long been one of Rogers' lovable trademarks. A fine eight-piece band helped mask the star's vocal deficiencies. They sounded as if they were transported directly from an early '80s Nashville recording studio. The band only veered from its processed sound on "Something's Burning" and "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," psychedelic hits from Rogers' stint with The First Edition.
"I have had an incredible career singing about dysfunctional families," Rogers said after delivering an excellent version of the cheating song "Daytime Friends."
Although it was immensely satisfying to hear Rogers perform disturbing story songs like "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," he was at his best on sentimental ballads. Material like "Lady" and "You Decorated My Life" would be embarrassingly smarmy if performed by almost anyone else. Rogers, however, converts sappy songs into works of art. After all, he's made a career of turning garbage into gold.
Love or Something Like It It's a Beautiful Life If You Want to Find Love Through the Years You Decorated My Life She Believes In Me Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town The Greatest She's a Mystery Love the World Away Instrumental violin feature Share Your Love With Me Crazy I Don't Need You Coward of the County Daytime Friends Buy Me a Rose Something's Burning Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) We've Got Tonight Have a Little Faith In Me The Gambler Lucille Lady Islands In the Stream