Vicente Fernandez's Friday show at Toyota Center was already shaping up as a bittersweet evening. The ranchera legend announced earlier this year that he's retiring, hence the aptly named Gira de Adios (Goodbye Tour).
But this past week's news made it all the more poignant. Fernandez, 72, announced that he was in Houston a few days ago to undergo a biopsy on "a small lump on his liver." He'll undergo more testing next week and has been joined in town by his "entire family." (Only two shows in Mexico have been canceled.)
"Thank you to all the people who love me and who have prayed for me," he said in a statement. "Your support gives me the strength to carry on."
Fernandez didn't directly address the issues onstage, only to say that he wanted to walk away while his voice was still in good shape. That's a whopping understatement. His booming vocals seemed to shake the entire arena for the entire two-and-a-half hours. At times, he pulled the microphone down below his waist, and his voice was still strong and clear. There's almost no one, in any language, with that kind of effortless power.
He looked healthy and happy, and the smile rarely left his face. He'd often cup his hands to his ears, inciting cheers and hollers from the crowd. Almost every song earned a standing ovation and cries of "bravo!"
He was dressed, of course, in his signature charro outfit, gold buttons scaling up and down his legs. That shock of white hair was in full display once he tossed off the hat, and a holstered gun sat at his hip.
"As long as you don't stop clapping, Chente will not stop singing," he told the crowd.
Fernandez worked every angle of the arena from his in-the-round setup. His band and the Mariachi Azteca were set up in symphony style, and it gave the whole thing an elegant glow. The house lights were turned up frequently throughout the show, which added to the festive atmosphere.
Each song -- "Cien Años," "Por Tu Maldito Amor,"La Migra" -- was given equal importance. There were no throwaway moments or easy filler tunes. The crowd seemed to know every word, every gesture, every response to his call.
Fernandez dedicated "Perdóname" to his wife, Dona Refugio "Cuquita" Abarca, who sat beaming in the front row; and "El Hombre Que Mas te Amo" was a stirring tribute to his four sons. Vicente Fernandez, Jr. joined his father onstage for "Vamos a Cuidarla Mas," another dedication to Cuquita, and opened the show with a brief set (though he's a far lesser singer than his namesake).
By the time Fernandez rolled through familiar classics "Guadalajara," "El Rey" and "Volver, Volver," the crowd was at full tilt. He tore through those final tunes with boundless energy and enthusiasm, as if he'd just gotten onstage. Fans were still cheering even as he left the Houston stage for the last time. No sentimental goodbyes. No cheesy encores. Just the king of ranchera music walking into the sunset.
See more photos of Vicente Fernandez at Toyota Center HERE.