CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's a line in the chorus of "The Gambler" about "knowing when to hold them, knowing when to fold them and knowing when to run."
Wednesday night at the Clay Center, Kenny Rogers still seems a long way from folding or running. He was still capable of playing a good game and walking away while he was ahead.
Over the years, the Clay Center has had hits and misses when it comes to older singers. Tony Bennett, for example, was a hit. Wayne Newton, while a fine showman, was more of a miss.
Not surprisingly, most singers don't improve with age. After a dozen records and a couple decades on a stage, a singer's voice typically declines. The talent of a young artist cracks and crumbles. It fades away and sometimes the ruin that's left is heartbreaking.
The funny thing is, Rogers seems to have held on to most of his voice. Sure, it's not entirely the same as it was when he was 30 or 40 and churning out one pop country hit after another, but in his early 70s, Rogers sounded surprisingly similar to the vocalist he once was.
He also had quite a bit of energy, though clearly, he moves a bit slower than he used to. He was every bit the performer, nonetheless. Rogers was incredibly charming and very funny. He joked with the crowd, practically held court, and even made one guy on the front row about $100 richer by giving him $10 every time he sang a hit.
Rogers had a lot of hits and, for this performance, that's where he pretty much stayed. He performed more than 10 of his best-known songs, including a few tunes better remembered as duets. He did "Lucille," "Coward of the County," and of course, "The Gambler," but a little surprisingly, he pulled out "Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition Was In)," a golden oldie from the age of acid rock and his time with the band First Edition.
Rogers put on a great show (about 90 minutes worth) that was heavy on the nostalgia, but in all the right ways. It's a shame more people didn't come out. The turnout was fair, but not particularly remarkable.
Even though Rogers sounded better than may have been expected, and the fans loved it, the overall sound quality in the Clay Center was terrible. The audio was often jumbled and reminiscent of a high school auditorium.
It was alarming.