The gospel according to Willie Nelson
By: Joey Guerra, Houston Chronicle

Texas treasure. Country icon. Living legend. What else can possibly be said about Willie Nelson?

The fact that he's still touring at all — he turned 84 years old this year — is a miracle. But there he was, braids and red bandana, beaming in front of a sold-out crowd Tuesday night at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land.

Nelson stepped onstage as soon as the lights went down, kicking off as always with a slow and steady "Whiskey River." He mostly speak-sings his catalog but imbues every word with sincerity and wit.

The crowd ranged from 20-something hipsters to couples celebrating 40-plus years of marriage. And they rallied throughout the 70-minute set.

Some stood and cheered. Others swayed in their seats. And some took to the aisles for a two-step. Merch lines were busy throughout the night.

Nelson has so many songs to choose from that every inclusion feels like a small surprise. He repeated several tunes from his RodeoHouston set earlier this year.

There was a breezy run through "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Crazy" and "Night Life." He still imbues "Always On My Mind" and Angel Flying too Close to the Ground" with regret and tenderness. And there were plenty of laughs during "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" and "Still Not Dead."

He paid tribute to Waylon Jennings ("Good Hearted Woman"), Hank Williams ("Move it on Over") and Tom T. Hall ("Shoeshine Man"). And the crowd let out cheers of approval during "On the Road Again" and "Georgia On My Mind."

It was fitting that Nelson ended with a medley of "Will the Circle be Unbroken," "I'll Fly Away" and "I Saw the Light." For so many fans in attendance, the night was indeed the gospel according to Nelson.

© Smart Financial Centre