The most telling moment of Chris Stapleton’s two-hour performance at Fresno’s Save Mart Center on Thursday night wasn’t a song.
It was the singer introducing his band.
It was a sort of call-and-response soul revival tune, with Stapleton lyrically poking fun at his band.
We learned that bassist J.T. Cure has two cats who miss him when he’s on the road and drummer Derek Mixon likes fresh pepper on his salads, which Stapleton admitted was a weird fact to pass along. While Mixon isn’t as sensitive as Cure, he’s still smooth, Stapleton sang, before turning to his wife and singing partner, Morgane Stapleton.
“She is the beauty that tames this beast.”
The interlude served as an extended intro for Stapleton’s hit “Tennessee Whiskey,” but mostly it encapsulated the theme of the tour.
This was a night of Southern soul music, disguised as a country show.
But it’s a kind of country music we don’t see much in these parts, given the last country singers to play the arena were the tabloid news guy and the one who crashed a plane on to the stage as an encore.
Silvas opened the show with a set that showcased her powerful voice and her love of soul music. It included a cover of Jackson Five’s “ Who’s Loving You.”
East upped the ante. His performance was devoid of any country music trappings – the pedal steel or mandolin. Instead, we got saxophone and trumpet and wah guitar playing to East’s raspy wail of a voice and on-stage antics that were more Jackie Wilson (or early Van Morrison) than any named country artist.
At times it has hard to tell if he was dancing or conducting the band. It was likely both.
Stapleton played things more traditionally country, as suits his voice and general aesthetic (the outlaw cowboy hat and lion beard). He pushed into some extended blues cuts, a la the Allman Brothers. “I was Wrong” stretched way beyond the three-minute album cut run time. But the singer shined on songs like “Either Way,” performed without the band. He managed to cut through the din with a guitar and vocal clarity that is hard to manage in an arena setting.
▪ Stapleton was originally slated to perform June 1, but rescheduled because a finger injury prevented him from playing his guitar. He made just one reference to the fact, early in the show.
“We’re a little late, but we made it here.”
▪ Find someone that looks at you the way Chris and Morgane Stapleton look at each other. Seriously, when she was on stage, they were eyes-locked in love.
▪ Silvas played early (7 p.m.) to a half-empty arena, which means lots of people missed out. Also, pretty sure her opening track borrowed a Devo riff.
▪ The show could be summed up by the covers the opening acts did. Silvas did Jackson Five. East did a horn-driven version on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps.”