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TILLIS UNDENIABLY THE QUEEN OF `REAL’ COUNTRY

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A Pam Tillis concert is as close to the "real thing" as country music lovers have ever come.

No fancy light show. No forced choreography or prepared chatter. Just a seven-piece band, great songs, spontaneous movement and one of the most amazingly true voices on the country music scene today.Tillis breezes through a fast-paced, understated show that centers firmly on such songs as "Queen of Denial" and "Let That Pony Run." The only distraction is her dazzling - and very genuine - smile.

She has fun and so does her audience.

Maybe something about the Capitol Theatre brings out the best in an audience. It's an elegant, intimate venue for a crowd used to concrete or straw and huge arenas. People sway, they stamp and clap and sing along. But they don't shrill out their pleasure or block each other's view.

Wednesday night, an extra charge ran through the theater because the Tillis entourage included half a dozen cameramen, filming a TV special.

Tillis had eyes only for the audience. And nobody ever made a performance look easier.

She glided through songs, from the varied paces of "(I Was) Blown Away" to the growl-and-purr "What Would Elvis Do?" and melancholy "Blue Roses."

She told the crowd she absorbed her love of country music - and more than a few lyrics - when as a baby she used to sleep in her daddy's guitar case. Her father is Mel Tillis.

A variety of musical styles fall under the broad banner of country music. Tillis is comfortable with and expert at all of them, from the Tammy Wynette style "Do You Know Where Your Man Is?" to the rocking, sassy "Shake the Sugar Tree."

The best part of her show, though, came when the Country Music Association vocalist of the year showcased her witty love of word play. She was backed only by a fiddle and two guitars during "Tequila Mocking Bird," the story of a singer and her travails. (Think about it. It's kind of like her classic "Queen of Denial.")

Other crowd-pleasers included "Maybe It Was Memphis" ("Before you record a song, you'd better love it because you're gonna be singing it all your life," she quipped), "Mi Vida Loca" and the title cut of her new album, "Sweetheart's Dance."

Cowdaddies, a popular local country group, opened the show with a nice mix of old and new country, including "Spanish is the Loving Tongue" and "Route 66."