WORCESTER - Alan Jackson has hit a few milestones lately. He turned 50 last week and just reached 50 million copies in album sales, a mark that few artists reach. And at the DCU Center in Worcester Thursday night, Jackson showed off yet another achievement: He now has so many hit singles that he is resorting to the time-honored - or maddening, some would say - practice of playing excerpts to squeeze in as many as possible.
His 90-minute set began, as usual, with "Gone Country," but this time it was only a taste of the song, and abbreviated versions of several more were sprinkled throughout the show. It's an unfortunate practice that tends to rob songs of their emotional power: Just when the hard country weeper "Everything I Love" was hitting its stride, for example, it was cut short.
To be fair, the tactic gave the singer time to delve deeper into his catalog for the phenomenal cover of "The Blues Man" (all seven minutes of it) and to include other hits that haven't shown up on recent tours, such as the swinging "She's Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues)," his countrified take on "Summertime Blues," and the ruminative ballad "Song for the Life."
The chart toppers that escaped the scalpel -"Drive," "Chattahoochee," and, of course, Jackson's 9/11 commentary, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" - were more satisfying. "Like Red on a Rose" (toughened up by some aggressive slide guitar), "Small Town Southern Man," and other recent hits got the full treatment, too.
Excerpts aside, Jackson's performance was as consistent as his No. 1 songs have been, hits that have been showing up almost every year since 1991. As affable and taciturn as ever onstage, he played the same no-frills, traditional country music that he's been making since he started.
The night began with a brief opening set from James Otto, a member of the Big & Rich/MuzikMafia crowd, who promoted his recent release with the Big & Rich-like bluster of "Ain't Gonna Stop" and the country-soul flavored "These Are the Good Ole Days." Trace Adkins, he of the seemingly bottomless baritone, followed with an hourlong set that included two enticing previews of his upcoming release, the hard shuffle "Marry for Money" and the testifying gospel number "Muddy Water."