Friday, November 6, 2009

Robert Earl Keen

The older I get, the tougher I am as a critic.

I enjoyed Robert Earl Keen's show last night (the current BarStool our with Bruce Robison and Todd Snider), but I didn't love it. It wasn't transcendent. (Though it was better than his last show here -- famously ruined by the inexplicable substitution of a banjo for Bryan Duckworth's fiddle. Famous to ME, anyway.)

Part of it is maybe that the older I get, the shorter my attention span is. Singer/Songwriter lineups just don't do it anymore. I need a full band. And they need to be kinda loud. Three guys and three guitars...? I feel like I should be in a coffeehouse.

And the older I get, the more easily irritated I get. When someone shouted "Go Aggies," I wanted to punch them in the face. Everyone knows it's "Gig 'em, Aggies." Anyone who doesn't know that has no business at the show. Keen's former running mate at Texas A&M, Lyle Lovett, has much less patience for drunken hecklers and shuts them down much quicker.

I'm really ambivalent about theatre venues that serve alcohol, because it seems to give everyone the erroneous idea they're at a Jimmy Buffet concert and the floor is open for requests. It isn't. While I didn't approve (at all) of the set list, I wouldn't attempt to change it by yelling out an alternate suggestion. That's their job. It isn't a referendum.

And while the three are clearly friends in real life -- and their interaction was entertaining -- it's not like they really "go" together, like the Highwaymen, or the Flatlanders. There were people there for Robert Earl Keen, and there were people there for Todd Snider. Mostly separately. (No one was there for poor Bruce Robison -- even I know him mostly as the guy who married Kelly Willis. He's a superb songwriter -- just underrated.)  But the tour isn't exactly the match that say, Lyle Lovett and Willis Allan Ramsey, used to be. Coworkers who simply like to get paid to drink and smoke pot together don't always necessarily make for the most productive workplace.

And speaking of potheads, and work, why didn't Todd Snider bother to learn anyone's songs but his own? That's just rude. If you're going to limit a lineup to three guys and three guitars (a fine concept, just no longer to my taste), all three of them better know how to play guitar. After a couple hundred years kicking around Texas, Bruce Robison and Robert Earl Keen are extremely qualified musicians. Todd Snider might have an amusing drug-addled shtick, but he is not. I believe he characterized himself, accurately, if I'm remembering it correctly, as a "treehuggin, peace lovin', porn watchin' lazy-ass hippie." All good things, but he's like that party guest who starts out funny, and wears thin fast -- about the time somebody has to go fish him outta jail.

And speaking of jail, the disinhibiting effects of alcohol on the crowd can't be underestimated -- as clearly indicated by the floorshow we were treated to by this couple who couldn't stop groping each other during intermission. (That's his hand, not hers, by the way. Pal Bluebelle had to apply bleach directly to her eyeballs once she discerned what was really going on.)

Just before intermission, I had been checking out the box seats up above the stage and my concert buddy was saying how great they'd be -- we could smuggle in boxes of wine, host a party within a party, etc. 

I, on the other hand, had just been thinking that the next time I took a date to a show, those seats represented an awesome opportunity for the old popcorn-box-with-the-phony-bottom trick. He said THAT's how you end up on the Internet, Young Lady (as we looked at the sea of iPhones and BlackBerries surrounding us).

Once I saw this couple in action, I realized the wisdom behind his words. I might even have to retire the Popcorn Box.


  1. I can't imagine that this was a very enthralling evening -- though if Bruce Robison did "What Would Willie Do" it would have made up for a lot. And if he had brought Kelly Willis along I could have sat through anything the guys sang just on the chance of hearing her sing a few songs. Interesting that Keen is on the road this way, given the rock'n'rollness of his new cd. There is one stripped down show really worth seeing -- Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Guy Clark and John Hiatt, four guys, four guitars and four chairs. One of the best musical evenings ever. And they don't just do their own stuff, they do each other's.

  2. Yes, Bruce did "What Would Willie Do" and it was a highlight. Strong writer, but he seems very restrained as a Performer (wish he'd brought Kelly; Todd told the audience his wife was there; maybe she's his designated Sitter).
    You're right -- this tour doesn't seem to support this REK record.
    It wasn't bad. And it was exactly what they bill it as -- three guys and three guitars, give or take.
    And I seem to be in the Minority -- it's getting raves from everybody else.