George Strait and Martina McBride at Xcel Energy Center, 2/15/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
George Strait and Martina McBride
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Friday, February 15, 2013

George Strait and Martina McBride were two of the major brick layers on the bridge between what we've come to call "real" country -- the heartbreak and honky tonk from the '50s through the '70s -- and whatever it is you want to call what Nashville has today. Their songs are true to the genre, heart-rending, like Strait's signature "Amarillo by Morning," or cinematic, like McBride's "Independence Day." Though Strait encroached into the sing-songy on "Check Yes or No" and McBride went on to append "pop" to her country, history will likely count these two among the last vestiges of the genre before a big, disgusting honky-tonk badonkadonk suffocated it to death.

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Slideshow: George Strait and Martina McBride at Xcel Energy Center

Though the curse of any successful artist is to draw comparisons to their predecessors, it's important to note that Blake Sheldon and Dierks Bentley aren't the children of Hank Williams and George Jones; it's Strait who is their daddy. So when the father of modern country music chooses to, as his tour name suggests, ride away, his offspring must have their pretty little eyes on his throne. Pray for our children.

But the King ain't dead yet. Strait apparently plans to stay in the business and record; just don't expect to catch him on any future tours. All this in the air, Friday night's sold-out, double-billed McBride and Strait concert at the Xcel in Saint Paul was festive and somber as a revered lame duck's parting address.

Photo by Stacy Schwartz

McBride opened with a satisfying set. The crowd stayed in their seats, but boots were in motion and several songs caused more than a few old cowboys to stretch their weary arms across their cowgirl's shoulders. We'll forgive her for melding "The First Cut is the Deepest" and "Free Falling" into one song in the middle of her set, because she still has the voice of a Middle American angel. And those pipes weren't backed by no recording; that's all Kansas corn. Her otherworldly high notes likely changed some lives Friday night.

Photo by Stacy Schwartz

Strait's set was presented like a personal history, a song-by-song recapping of his storied career. Here's a man who knows his audience as well as any performer ever has, and he didn't shortchange it by skipping any hits. "Amarillo by Morning," "Check Yes or No" and "The Chair" rightly invigorated the arena, a collective agreement of getting their money's worth. The show hit its peak when McBride joined Strait to sing a duet of, get this, "Jackson."

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