NEWARK, NJ—The only person who goes to a Kenny Rogers concert alone is Kenny Rogers. And he knows it. After 54 years, the raspy-voiced country singer-songwriter understands that he’s singing to people in relationships. So during an evening of his greatest hits and holiday standards at NJPAC, Rogers playfully sympathized with guys whose girlfriends and wives dragged them to his show to hear love songs. He realizes that if the men go home happy, their girls go home happy. So the three-time Grammy Award winner opened the show with “Love Or Something Like It” and “Get Up,” then promptly turned to couples therapy.
“I can actually tell married couples from unmarried couples,” said Rogers. “You think I’m kidding, but look for yourself. We start singing the love songs and the unmarried couples lock up arms like, ‘Oh my God this is forever.’ Well keep your eyes on those married couples. They accidentally brush each other and it’s like, ‘Get away,’” he teased. He supported this observation with an anecdote. “I was singing ‘Through The Years’ and right there in the front row was a little elderly couple, no question in my mind they had to have been married 50 years. She got so excited about the lyrics of ‘Through The Years.’ She reached over and put her arms through her husband’s arms. Laid her head on his shoulder. I actually heard that man say to her, ‘I didn’t like that song then. And I don’t like it now.’ I bet I could walk through here now with a very high degree of accuracy and point out to you the men who did not want to come here tonight.”
Rogers scanned the room and chose a man named Jim.
“Jim, tell me where you’re most comfortable. A) You are a really big fan. B) You’re not a particularly big fan, but you’ve heard some of the songs I’ve recorded. C) You could care less about me, but you would kill for this shirt.”
After Rogers gave Jim a free t-shirt, he promised to turn him into a fan by the end of the night. Then Rogers launched into his legendary hits including “Ruby,” “Through The Years” and “You Decorated My Life.” Rogers interrupted that song to rib Jim—“I happen to know it’s Jim’s favorite as well.” The 75-year-old performer, whose voice is still as loyal to him as his fans, followed that up with “She Believes In Me,” “Coward Of The County” and “Daytime Friends.”
“A couple years ago I found this song that single-handedly proved to me once and for all men are from Mars and women are from Venus,” said Rogers as he introduced “Buy Me A Rose.” “Here’s this poor guy doing all he can and he is just on the wrong page.”
Next, Rogers played the nostalgia card. Nothing reignites a spark between couples like a happy memory.
“Those of you who lived through the ’60s…I promise this is the closest you’re ever going to come to a 1967 acid flashback,” Rogers said before singing “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a tune he originally recorded with his first band, The First Edition. (You may also know it from the classic “Gutterballs” scene in The Big Lebowski).
“I’m sure you have no clue what that song is about,” said Rogers, with youth behind his eyes. “Let me share with you the poetic beauty of that second verse…I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole. Then I followed it in,” he recited with an amused smile. “I watched myself crawling out as I was crawling in. I got so uptight I couldn’t unwind. I saw so much. I broke my mind. I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in,” he concluded, with a puzzled look. “I think we can agree right here tonight, they just don’t write songs like this anymore.”
Then Rogers returned to romance, introducing Grammy Award-winning singer Linda Davis, who joined him for his favorite duet, “We’ve Got Tonight.”
Before donning a velvet jacket for the holiday portion of his show, Rogers casually offered the crowd “’Merica,” “The Gambler,” “Lucille,” “Lady” and “Islands In The Stream.” He also revisited our friend, Jim. Rogers threw a wad of cash to him and asked good-naturedly, “Are you a fan now?” Laughs from the crowd answered on Jim’s behalf—yes.
With a children’s choir and Christmas classics like “Let It Snow,” “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Silent Night” and “Oh Holy Night,” Rogers’ second half felt like a completely different show. But when you’ve been entertaining audiences for seven decades, like Rogers, you can pretty much do whatever you want and people will listen to you—whether you’re playing a medley of songs or playing cupid.