Saturday Night: Toby Keith at The Woodlands

Toby Keith Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion September 8, 2012

Toby Keith is America writ small: beholden to corporate interests, often hypocritical, prone to pursuing his baser urges while exhorting others to hold themselves to a higher standard. He is, in many ways, our exemplary artist for these modern times.

Keith's "Live in Overdrive" tour, which stopped by the Mitchell Pavilion Saturday night, was everything we've come to expect from the man. He was, by turns, patriotic, raunchy, self-deprecating, and obnoxious, with the entire concert experience inundated with enough Ford Motor Company product imagery to make us feel like were in the middle of a two-hour car commercial.

Then again, complaining about excessive advertising during a concert when just about every entertainment option available these days comes with an ad ticker, pop-ups or forced commercials seems almost... unpatriotic.

Before Keith took the stage, we had the pleasure of seeing Brantley Gilbert, who appears to have adopted the new-country movement by way of American Eagle Outfitters. The heavily inked Gilbert's band even features a grungy lead guitarist and a drummer with a Mohawk that would do Wattie Buchan proud.

Gilbert himself is the closest thing we've seen to a country version of Bret Michaels. From the chain wallet in his designer jeans to the Christian tats to the dog tags around his neck to his bellowing "TEXAS!" before every song, the guy has already dug a hole from which not even Bon Jovi's "Wanted: Dead or Alive" can save him.

That brings up another interesting point: Keith and company seem bent on laying claim to the disenfranchised metal community. How else to explain the pre-show intro of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" and bumper music that included "Coming of Age" by Damn Yankees? It's either an attempt to include other rebellious musical elements or a distancing of oneself from newer American country music.

And going by his songs, Keith knows quite a bit about these United States. His first two numbers were "American Ride" (the video accompaniment prominently features Harley Davidson motorcycles) and "Made in America," about a man whose heart was broken seeing foreign cars "filled with fuel that isn't ours." Dude, didn't you know this was Ford country?

Keith and his longtime sidemen the Easy Money Band settled into a comfortable groove made all the more accommodating by the well-lubricated crowd, who were perhaps anticipating the ensuing avalanche of songs about overindulgence ("Get Drunk and Be Somebody," "I Like Girls That Drink Beer," "Beers Ago" and ""Whiskey Girl"). All of these were topped off (ha ha) by crowd favorite "Red Solo Cup," hundreds of which were held aloft and waved by the audience. These people must have had a less, er, thorough Woodlands security person to get past than we did.

Or maybe they were just in Roger Clemens' entourage. The Skeeters' pitcher made a quote-unquote impromptu appearance onstage during the song (he also shows up in the video), and could be seen offstage enjoying himself for the rest of the set.

Does Keith have an arrangement with the Solo Cup Company? It seems likely, given the singer's apparent willingness to shill (and the fact he sipped from one the entire show). Then again, it'd be hard to find any space amidst all the Ford branding on the stage, built to resemble the titular Clancy's Tavern from his most recent album. And we ought to credit the guy for writing at least a couple songs that don't mention Mustangs (the car, not the horse).

But then, as the Cranberries once asked, does anybody care? The audience Saturday night was fairly boisterous, though a sizable contingent chose to leave before the encore (faux-psychedelic covers of "Stranglehold" aren't everyone's cup of tea, apparently). We did find it mildly surprising at the number of — how to say this delicately? — "morally flexible" women in attendance. They ranged across all ages, which makes a certain kind of sense; Keith himself is 51, presenting a comfortably seasoned option as opposed to the twentysomething Gilbert.

Still, I noticed at least one mom with daughters in attendance wincing at that line in "God Love Her" about 17-year olds getting "kinda horny" (it's "kinda crazy" on the album), but it was "horny" Saturday and hey, we're all here to raise some carefully managed hell, after all.

Keith is no great vocalist, or even a crooner, but his baritone suffices for what's asked of it by singalongs like "I Love this Bar" and "Beer for My Horses," the song he sang with Willie Nelson. There were several shout-outs to the Red-Headed Stranger, whom Keith would definitely like to be associated with, yet his most overt love letter to the guy, "Weed with Willie," is actually backpedaling ("I'll never smoke weed with Willie again"). I guess "outlaws" are only allowed to partake of legal intoxicants these days.

Getting back to the Keith-as-America metaphor, it really comes into focus when you realize you don't even have to take the man's politics into account (he's a self-described "conservative independent"). He, like so many of us, are happy to make a buck wherever we can while giving lip service to the concepts of "service" and "sacrifice."

The audience Saturday night was, to put it mildly, right-leaning, and never more so than during the encore of "American Soldier" and "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American). There's that word again. To be sure, Keith is a longtime supporter of our nation's military, having made numerous trips to the Middle East to entertain the troops. But we've always wondered if that might be as calculated a maneuver as allying himself with a major car company. Like so many entertainers who are "enthusiastic" military boosters, Keith himself never served. And at the end of the night, when he's getting big cheers for telling us to thank the firefighters and state troopers who "keep our streets safe," it's easy to forget just an hour ago he was exhorting us all to get drunk. The whole exchange, and indeed the whole show, smacked of opportunism and doublespeak.

How American.

Personal Bias: I have never been the deliverer — or the recipient — of a boot in the ass.

The Crowd: Imagine if Desperate Housewives was set in Humble.

Overheard In the Crowd: "You need to do some more tequila shots!"

Random Notebook Dump: I'll bet he has herbal tea in that cup.


American Ride
Made in America
Get Drunk and Be Somebody
God Love Her
I Like Girls That Drink Beer
Beers Ago
I Wanna Talk About Me
Whiskey Girl
Weed With Willie
Who's Your Daddy?
Get Out of My Car
Red Solo Cup
As Good As I Once Was
I Love This Bar
Should've Been A Cowboy
Beer For My Horses
How Do You Like Me Now?
A Little Less Talk A Lot More Action/Stranglehold (Ted Nugent cover)


American Soldier
Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)

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