It took a country festival in Italy (yes, Italy!) to bring Watson to the Boston area, the night before he was heading overseas. And he came out in top form with the chugging, fast-paced "Freight Train" from "The Underdog" getting the night going.
Wearing a black cowboy hat (the Texas singers actually do wear these hats unlike most other country singers these days, well, except for those wearing a baseball hat) demonstrated his country chops more and more as the 95-minute show reached its crescendo.
Watson, a likable sort, who was happy to play before a few hundred folks on a cold winter night, was too harder-edged early on. The vocals were a bit buried on songs like "Real Good Time" at the expense of the song. He went to the commercial side with "Summertime Girl" and "Blame It On Those Baby Blues."
But the set turned about half-way through with "July in Cheyenne," a sad song about the death of cowboy star Lane Frost. Watson prefaced the harder-edged country song by talking about the loss of his child, setting the maudlin tone.
Watson had quickly hit his stride, following with "Wild Fire" and the fiddle of the youthful Damien Green kicking off a song squarely in the country realm. It helped to have a capable backing band. As Watson would later say prior to "Orange Blossom Special," "I'm a little opinionated, but I think country music today needs more fiddle." Green did not disappoint. Jason Lerma on guitar, shifted his abilities to the needs of the particular song.
Watson, sporting a close-cropped beard, continued in his comfort zone with the religiously themed, slowed-down, spare sounding "Barbed Wire Halo."
Watson left no doubt where he stood musically with "Fence Post" and its spoken intro leading before being told by some record exec that "you don't have what it takes to make it in Nashville." Maybe Watson should be thankful for the rejection because he's doing fine, as he sang on "Fence Post," "singing my own songs rather than being a puppet on a string." (Okay, he did cover Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" during the encore, but it's hard to complain about that).
It may have taken Watson a long time to get to Beantown, but as he said he doesn't believe playing a town just once. Good thing he'll be back.