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Friday, Aug. 30, 2013

Toby Keith @ Marcus Amphitheater

Aug. 29, 2013

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Toby Keith can be subtle and thoughtful, capable of making palpable very adult and nuanced emotions of longing, loss and regret. That was not, perhaps appropriately, the Toby Keith who played The Marcus Amphitheater Thursday night in conjunction with Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration.

In keeping with the commencement of a four-day party honoring a motorcycle manufacturer whose products nigh iconically represent a rowdy manifestation of American freedom, the Toby Keith on display was the hard-partying, patriotic hell raiser who has nearly single-handedly kept drinking and tavern songs alive on commercial country radio for 20 years. This he did even without pushing his current airplay single, the relatively low-key, rather catchy “Drinks After Work.”

But there was no dearth of songs about imbibing in his two-hour set, replete as it was with chart toppers including “Whiskey Girl,” the song on which a restaurant chain is based, “I Love This Bar” (and grill!), and his vengeful ode to thirsty military men and their trusty steeds, “Beer For My Horses.” Willie Nelson’s duet vocals in the last of those were added via video, but it wasn’t the only appearance by the Red-Headed Stranger in Keith’s set. Sidetracking into a couple of non-hits that he admitted wouldn’t fly as radio fare, he sang of Nelson’s penchant for potent marijuana in “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again.”

This Keith followed up with the closest he will likely ever get to David Allan Coe’s or Larry Pierce’s infamous X-rated fare, “(Get Out Of Your Clothes or) Get Out of My Car.” That is, possibly, apart from telling the crowd that he and his band were going to play “some fuckin’ rock ’n’ roll because we can do this shit” before breaking into Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” in the middle of a lengthy take on one of Keith’s signature songs, “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.”    

Keith’s three-piece brass section and other stage cohorts joined him to sing background on one of his most divisive ditties, the amusing and/or annoying ode to that favorite beverage receptacle, “Red Solo Cup.” During the song, enormous inflatable replicas of the disposable tumblers flanked the stage in one of the few concessions to props Keith employed apart from brief, upward shots from flaming flash pots during a few numbers.

More than his occasional forays into goofiness, it’s Keith’s patriotism, which has informed his reputation among non-country fans. Toward the end of his set, he saluted police and firefighters for their work. Two of his first three opening songs were the purposefully lyrically shambolic “American Ride” and “Made In America,” his ode to domestic manufacturing, the video for which he filmed in Milwaukee and the melody for which he largely, peculiarly copped from indie rockers Built To Spill. He encored with the self-explanatory “American Soldier” and perhaps his most controversial hit, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” the post-Twin Towers war cry renowned for the couplet “We’ll put a boot in your ass/ It’s the American way.” 

It would have been at least as fun and enlightening to have heard more from the more pensive, emotionally nuanced portion of Keith’s catalog. But this night was about celebration. And Harley owner that he is, he made good on maintaining the appropriate spirit.