FOXBOROUGH — When George Strait ambled onstage at Gillette Stadium Saturday, it was a hot summer night in 2019, but it could have been 2008, or 1997, or 1989. The man they call King George retired from touring in 2014, but promised occasional returns to the stage, and he came and played as he always has: attired in cowboy hat, starched, button-down shirt, jeans and boots, he offered brief between-song comments that only occasionally extended beyond expressions of appreciation, he stood stock-still in front of his microphone with his hand resting on his acoustic guitar as much as playing it, and he sang.
If you’re looking for looking for pyrotechnics and histrionics, you’re not going to find them at a George Strait show. What you will find is what the 67-year-old has offered for many, many years: a distinctive, evergreen brand of country music, rooted in traditional country and western swing but leavened with more pop-leaning fare, rendered by his snap-tight Ace in the Hole Band, many of whose members have been playing with him since he first set foot on a stage. Saturday’s performance, before a crowd drenched by pelting rain during Blake Shelton’s preceding set, was true to form.
Of course, the show did differ from those the singer played a quarter-century ago, due to the steady source of renewal provided by the mountain of hits he has accumulated over the years (although he’s garnering fewer of those these days). As ever, his setlist tapped that mountain to mix old, new, and in between. There were early hits such as “Ocean Front Property” and “Amarillo by Morning” (a song Strait said might his favorite of any he’s recorded); there were hooky 2000s-vintage delights like “Wrapped” and “Leave You With a Smile” and, for more recent fare, the languid, ruminative country of “Cold Beer Conversation” and the good-timing “Here for a Good Time.”
His most recent record, “Honky Tonk Time Machine,” was represented by a quartet of songs, including the modern honky-tonk of “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” (“maybe you’ve heard this one, maybe not,” the singer remarked of that single) and the co-branding effort “C?digo” (a song about the tequila in which Strait has an ownership stake). His usual shout-out to Merle Haggard came in the form of covers of “Pancho and Lefty” and the Hag’s redneck anthem “Fighting Side of Me.” His encore, as always, started with his western swing classic, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” and ended with “The Cowboy Rides Away.”
In between those closers, though, was something off the Strait-track: a smile-inducing cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” that demonstrated a capacity on the part of the man and his band to rock when they’re inclined to. As predictably consistent as a George Strait concert is, the King of Country always has a subtle change-up or two in store.
At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Saturday