Last Night: Toby Keith at Reliant Stadium

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Toby Keith Reliant Stadium February 25, 2013

Toby Keith. That big galoot.

Thanks to one song that he didn't even play Monday night, Toby Keith is still painted in much of the media as a frothing, flag-waving, rabid right-winger of Nugentesque proportions. In point of fact, he's much too laid-back for all that.

Opening the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concert series, Keith kicked politics to the curb to espouse a platform of beer drinking and more beer drinking. He's getting a little long in the tooth to raise much hell anymore, and seems totally comfortable with that. One of Keith's more poignant songs in recent memory is the contentedly nostalgic "Not as Good as I Once Was," which rang 100 percent true Monday.

He came out full-bore Hank Jr. on "American Ride," one of Keith's social studies that cautions listeners to "don't get busted singing Christmas carols." (The rodeo's sound system has improved noticably, to the point that it's now possible to make out both verses and chorus.)

But that was the exception. Keith made an Obamacare crack before "Beers Ago" -- no boos, surprisingly -- but he didn't come to preach. He came to celebrate preachers' daughters, and did so on "God Love Her," one of several songs aided by a robust Stax-style three-man horn section. The free and easy country-soul of "Who's Your Daddy" and "Beers Ago" was among the evening's musical highlights, to go with two two-steps right in a row, "Good as I Once Was" and the Urban Cowboy-ish "I Love This Bar."

Both songs, particularly the latter, counted among the wealth of songs saluting Keith's appreciation of suds; also "I Like Girls That Drink Beer" (hmmm) and "Beer For My Horses." Rejecting the high life for the roadhouse is as strong a theme in Keith's work as patriotism, and he's not blind to the consequences, even if the moody "Hope On the Rocks" was a little bit of a buzzkill all the same.

Sipping from a red plastic cup all evening, Keith didn't let the mood stay melancholy very long, though. He brought Roger Clemens and a couple of other middle-aged guys up onto the stage for "Red Solo Cup," a song that is as insufferable as it is infuriatingly entertaining. Keith has never drawn a lot of praise for his acting work, but he must be good at getting into character, because the way he was tottering around the stage by song's end, he seemed positively sloshed.

But one area where Keith is not acting is his ardent support of our men and women in uniform, law enforcement and first responders, but those in the military especially. Even before "American Soldier" made for a solemn benediction, Keith filled his between-song banter with toasts and tributes to servicemen and women, including his dad.

Why Alan Jackson is playing the rodeo's Armed Forces Appreciation Day tomorrow? Because for Toby Keith, it's every day.

Personal Bias: I've never quite understood the source of many critics' antipathy toward Keith. A lot of it has to do with politics, I'm sure, or some sort of intellectual aversion to the message behind songs such as "I Like Girls That Drink Beer." Mostly he seems like a guy who'd rather be playing golf with Roger Clemens.

The Crowd: God-fearing Americans of all ages. Positively gaudy Western wear, much of it Native American-themed.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Gonna be a long walk."

"Sir, you are right."

-- two buddies, immediately after exiting Reliant Stadium

Mutton Bustin' Report: Some poor kid got trampled by his designated sheep, not once but twice. The first time he barely made it out of the chute before the cagey little lamb bucked him off, and the same thing happened when officials gave him another try later on. Mutton bustin' is rough business.

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