Mickey Gilley & Johnny Lee at Stafford Centre, 6/25/2014
Urban Cowboy has had an unusual half-life. As fiction, it comes up somewhat wanting today; its star-crossed lovers Bud and Sissy ain't exactly Romeo and Juliet. But the film did have the good fortune to be largely set in a real nightclub overflowing with larger-than-life characters, an earthy but alien culture that proved irresistible once Esquire scribe Aaron Latham and then Paramout Pictures came calling. And in some ways, the myth of Gilley's has only grown in the three and a half decades since the film's June 1980 release.
But how to account for the continued interest in Urban Cowboy, which brought a full house to the Stafford Centre Wednesday night for the "Urban Cowboy Reunion Tour"? Part of it had to have been simple nostalgia; at the beginning of the evening a DJ from 97.1 Country Legends asked the theater how many people had been to the old honky-tonk on Pasadena's Spencer Highway, and at least half the room cheered in the affirmative. The other is that tour headliners Johnny Lee and Mickey Gilley are charismatic entertainers with a repertoire of classic-country hits as long as your arm, and often a wincingly corny joke at the ready.
That amounted to a rabbit-hole sort of evening that felt like it really did suspend time for the show's three-plus hour duration. It didn't always make a whole lot of sense, and felt markedly out of step with the times once or twice, but overall it was enjoyable enough if you rolled with what was happening.
Actually resembling Urban Cowboy co-star Barry Corbin (aka Uncle Bob), Johnny Lee came out shortly after 8 p.m. fronting a seven-piece-band all in white shirts. The steel player had on a huge Alice In Wonderland hat like in those Tom Petty videos, but all seven looked and played like they could go from first dance to last call without taking a break.
As a performer, Lee is not that far removed from another singer of his generation, Don Williams. The Texas City native won't knock you out with his vocal talents or instrumental ability (though he isn't bad on either count), but his low-key delivery allows the audience to focus on what he's saying; in turn, that makes him even more relatable, and he already seems like a pretty personable fellow.
Musically Lee's country/easy listening hybrid might have wandered a little too far into Holiday Inn lounge territory, but he got the balance right on the crushed-velvet vibe of "Could Have Heard a Heart Break," "Pickin' Up Strangers," "Bet Your Heart On Me" and especially Urban Cowboy soundtrack standout "Cherokee Fiddle." Laced throughout the set was a rakish sense of humor that found him joking about cruising retirement homes and doing Jell-O shooters with the residents, plus a new song called "He's a Mexico Mexican" that was a little too off-color. Still, it wasn't hard at all to imagine the likes of Eric Church recording another new one of his, a Southern rocker Lee introduced as "If You're Comin' For My Guns, I'll Give 'Em to Ya Bullets First."
Review continues on the next page.