Sunday, January 19, 2014

Robert Earl Keen Jr. in Boston

Robert Earl Keen might have been leading the pack in the "currently touring musicians I've liked for a long time but have never seen."  I first heard him in the mid-80s and his albums back then were great, but what got me about them was the great songs he was writing, and I don't feel he's come up to that level for a long time.  Whatever ... he's still worth seeing and the concert last night at Royale in Boston was great.

We did our "theater district" thing of parking in Sarah's building and then walking over there, through some small piles of the wet snow that had come down suddenly that morning and afternoon.  Robert Earl asked what we called weather like this ... "January thaw" is the proper answer but he said he'd call it "duck weather."

The room wasn't packed (though the floor was), and the balcony was closed.  Robert Earl came out and introduced the opener (not many headliners do this!), Andrea Davidson, who did a set of bluesy, hard-luck songs.  She closed with a cover of The Lumineers Ho-Hey and this caused some people to pay attention, though before that it had been ridiculous how many people were talking, shouting, and laughing through her set, like she was just some kind of weird distraction.

There was a funny mix of people at the show, about a third of us were baptized Robert Earl fans who knew all the lyrics and what lines to shout along with, a third were lukewarm fans who seemed to be enjoying it but were a little taken aback by the rabid fans, and a third of the people seemed to have just wandered in there and had no idea what to make of (e.g.) all those people holding up their beers and shouting every word of Merry Xmas From the Family.  Robert Earl was delighted by the rabid fans, and seemed to take pleasure in shocking the clueless types with his grim and weird stuff, like Corpus Christi Bay, Blow You Away, and The Great Hank.

Here's the set list:

  • I'm Coming Home
  • Corpus Christi Bay
  • Shades Of Gray
  • Amarillo Highway (Terry Allen)
  • That Bucking Song
  • Play a Train Song (Todd Snider)
  • Blow You Away
  • Broken End Of Love
  • Flying Shoes
  • Lonely Feeling
  • Feeling Good Again
  • Gringo Honeymoon
  • Merry Christmas From the Family
  • The Great Hank
  • Leaving In a Limo
  • I've Gotta Go
  • The Road Goes On Forever
  • The Front Porch Song
  • New Life In Old Mexico

You could have scraped me off the floor after the first 4 songs ... wow!  He had a band of Marty Muse on pedal steel/keyboard, Tom Van Schaik on drums, Bill Whitbeck on bass, and his long-time accompanist, the great Rich Brotherton on electric, acoustic, and mandolin.

This was a really fun concert, we both had a fantastic time.  But Robert Earl definitely isn't what he used to be.  He mumbles some lines (luckily we knew the words) and doesn't present his beautiful lyrics in the best way; he simply rocks out when he should be dynamic.  I'd love to hear him do some of those incredible songs with just him and Brotherton on acoustics in some coffeehouse (dream on).  He did come out solo for the encore and did an excellent version of The Front Porch song before the band joined him to rock us out the door with New Life In Old Mexico.  Great stuff! 

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