Country boy mixes it up at Tweeter Center

Posted: July 24, 2007

Too smart to be as dumb as he looks, Toby Keith plays the down-home cowboy while mixing genres like a mad scientist.

The subject matter at Sunday's Tweeter Center show barely varied from song to song: The south-of-the-border party anthem "Stays in Mexico" was followed shortly by "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" and "Whiskey Girl," with a smirking cover of Hoyt Axton's "No No Song" thrown in for good measure.

But as Keith worked his way down the drink menu, the songs behind him kept changing shape, from traditional country to horn-fueled soul to strutting stadium rock.

Standing before a drum riser shaped like the front of a pickup truck, Keith mixed boasts and regular-guy humility. The swaggering "Big Dog Daddy" marked his territory, and "Honky Tonk U" established his hard-won bona fides. In "High Maintenance Woman," he's a handyman getting the cold shoulder from a wealthy woman, while "How Do You Like Me Now?" rubs his success in the faces of his erstwhile doubters. (As if copping to the song's childishness, the horn parts mimic a nyah-nyah taunt.)

At times, Keith's playful crudeness crossed the line into boorishness. "Runnin' Block," a self-proclaimed "dude song" about bedding fat women, was merely gross, and the string-'em-up posturing of "Beer for My Horses" was simple enough without Keith ad-libbing lines about getting hammered after the deed was done.

Backed by a 10-piece band and showered with sparks and confetti, Keith reveled in red, white and blue spectacle, although he turned down the lights to briefly show his sensitive side. "You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like That" is an unabashed ballad and one of Keith's strongest songs, but "Love Me if You Can," his current single, flounders between pleading for acceptance and answering to no one. "Hate me if you want to, love me if you can," he sings, as if either were better than being ignored.

Miranda Lambert, who opened the show, had trouble getting the crowd's attention. Her 2005 debut, Kerosene, caught fire with country radio, but her incendiary second album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, is still smoldering.

Known for smashing guitars and (at least on record) breaking hearts, Lambert seemed uncharacteristically subdued by the lukewarm reception. It took her half-serious threats to stall the show, and Keith's arrival, to get the audience on its feet. But once Lambert had them up, she kept them there, a slow burner finally bursting into flame.

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