George Strait let his surname be his guide as he opened the concert season Friday night at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
There was nothing cute or contrived about Strait's performance on a chilly night, nothing that smacked of a big star--and Strait is one of the biggest in country music--out to magnify a name and gratify an ego.
Without histrionics, Strait and his band managed to convey a pleasure in playing that filled the evening with personality. They let liveliness spring from the songs themselves, and given the strength and variety of the set list, there was a lot of vibrancy to draw upon.
The show ranged through Strait's tradition-honoring Western swing and honky-tonk, tossed in some crowd-pleasing middle-of-the-road balladry that avoided smarminess, and made lots of room for well-chosen nuggets from precursors like Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
In forgoing the dramatic gesture, Strait did sacrifice the chance for soul-searing moments of deep pain or bubbling jubilation. But there is plenty of value in a liberal set of songs, long on melodic gems, delivered by a gifted, unpretentious singer backed by crack musicians. That's all the audience got out of unassuming George Strait, but that was plenty enough.