Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
hris Stapleton would necessarily have been pegged for stardom. After all, he's a low-key performer without the usual glad handing and bells and whistles.
For Stapleton, it's all pretty much about the music, and when you have the depth of material, not to mention the vocal might that goes along with it, extras are superfluous.
Usually playing the outdoor sheds, Stapleton went far more intimate – 5,000 capacity and easily selling out two shows - in the brand-new indoor music venue, which is part of Fenway Park.
Stapleton may be marketed as country, but in concert at least, he was far more of a blues singer who rocked. The Kentucky native has a wonderful, elastic tenor that dug deep into the songs. When he sang "Nobody to Blame" in his opening number, "Hard Livin'," "Cold" or "I Was Wrong" towards the end, Stapleton was authentic.
Sometimes the rock was of the Southern Rock variety as he made clear in meshing Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" before segueing into his own "The Devil Named Music."
The Allman Brothers Band even came into mind as an occasional influence.
That's not to suggest that Stapleton doesn't know his way around a country song either with "Starting Over" and "Broken Halos" as proof positive.
Stapleton occupied center stage for a three-song solo stint ("I fired the band," he joked) of "What Are You Listening To?," "Traveller" and "Whiskey and You."
Stapleton remarked that "What Are You Listening To?" was his first single back in 2013 and only charted at 47. So, that left him quite happy and perhaps surprised at the number of people singing along, something that happened often during the two-hour show.
The interlude was a smart move in changing up the tempo as he bookended it with a hard-edged, ultra-different take of Guy Clark's "Worry B Gone" and "Arkansas."
Stapleton may have been the focal point, but he has coalesced one engaging band. That would include Mickey Raphael, best known for being Willie Nelson's harp player for 49 years, and Paul Franklin, one of the best pedal steel players in Nashville and anywhere else.
Both Raphael and Franklin often punctuated the music. Give Stapleton credit for even deploying the pedal steel. That instrument used to be part and parcel of country music. No more. Raphael gave bluesy tones to the proceedings.
Morgane Stapleton, Chris' wife, offered lots of backing vocals, taking a stanza or two and coloring his throaty vocals. Stapleton would have benefitted from the volume being turned up for her.
Stapleton may get a lot of credit for his singing chops, but how about his guitar playing. He held down the leads with lots of taut, steely playing, including the elongated closing number of the night, "Outlaw State of Mind," where he simply scorched it. So did Raphael. A most powerful exit.
Stapleton may not have been not the biggest talker going. In reality, he talked more than he allowed when he said early on he would play more and talk less.
Either way, Stapleton showed he didn't need all the accoutrements of a big-time player. With a voice, band and songs, Stapleton is one of music's brightest stars.
Newcomer Morgan Wade opened with a satisfying 45-minute set. She's best known for her closing number, "Wilder Days," but the Virginia native has more than a few worthy songs. She'd be hard to pigeon hole as country, even if being sold that way. Including Miley Cyrus' "Bad Karma" was a head scratcher, though.
The heavily-tattooed singer sure has a pleasing voice and would have made even more of a mark with a longer set. Mark Wade as an up and comer.