The way the eight members of Ronnie Milsap's band all crammed onto the stage of the Crazy Horse on Monday night illustrated the sort of culture clash that typifies Milsap's music: The country fiddler and steel guitarist literally rubbed elbows with the folks playing synthesizer and electric guitar.
Such variety might have supplied some interesting juxtapositions of sounds, but all too often everyone simply canceled each other out as they all played at once, burying each song with instrumental overkill. Much of the time, the band even canceled out Milsap, whose vocals and piano playing disappeared into the overall swirl; his signature pop country hits such as "Stranger in My House" and "Smoky Mountain Rain" were swept clear of all personality. His failure to do much talking during his early set didn't help things any.
The highlights of the 13-song show were, accordingly, those numbers on which the band was most restrained. During its version of the Hank Cochran classic "Don't You Ever Get Tired (of Hurting Me)" (which Milsap took to No. 1 in 1989), the focus was limited to the fiddle and the steel guitar, enabling Milsap's soulful vocal and tingling piano to shine through.
Along the same lines, Milsap gathered four of his band mates for a delightfully ragged version of the Coasters' "Young Blood." The full band returned for Milsap's hit country version of Joe Henderson's 1962 R&B; hit "Snap Your Fingers" but in this case enhanced the song by giving it a 1940s big-band treatment.
But more often than not, the band mimicked the overblown sound of most of Milsap's recordings. Such songs as "All Is Fair in Love and War" ended up neither fish nor fowl as excessive instrumentation turned them into amorphous country/pop/R&B; hybrids.
The nadir was a medley of eight of Milsap's biggest hits that gave us such a small sample of each that it could have been titled "Hooked on Milsap." On the one hand, one can hardly blame Milsap for trying to find an efficient way to cram in as many hits as possible. With his staggering total of 41 country chart toppers, he easily could run through two generous sets without ever stooping to a No. 2 record. But that made it all the more shocking when he abruptly ended his first set after a skimpy 55 minutes.
When he failed to return for an encore, the crowd was left so dumbfounded that even after the house lights were turned on, scarcely anyone moved for several minutes. As people finally filed out, a member of the road crew informed a disappointed fan that she could always hear all those favorites that Milsap didn't play by purchasing his special greatest-hits tape, which was on sale at the souvenir stand.