Donnelly: Robert Earl Keen at the Granada, February 25, 2011

The road goes on forever, and the party never ends…

I never wanted to believe anyone more than I wanted to believe Robert Earl Keen last Friday night.  In REK’s world, things are simple and people are good.  Hell, even the scoundrels aren’t so bad, maybe they just got in with the wrong crowd.  Shit happens, you know?  People drink too much and might do bad things, but they don’t really mean it. 

The packed house at the Granada certainly bought into REK’s feel good vibe and it didn’t take much convincing.  Most people that I talked to in the crowd revered Keen as a legend, and only a few said that this was their first REK show.  Yes, the sing-along choruses started from almost the first song. 

But that’s what happens when the songs are so damn catchy…

From the get-go it was clear that Keen’s band was top notch, with the electric guitar player speedily flat picking while the pedal steel added that trademark country ambience.  And while many have knocked Keen’s vocal ability, he certainly showed no weaknesses on this night.  Granted, he’s not trying to do anything crazy vocally.  He just belts it out with a slight Texas drawl and a sincerity that makes all the songs sound like they were written after a hard night of drinkin’.

By the time he got seven or eight songs into the set, the band decided to take a break and let the man just do his thing solo.  Keen launched into one of his all-time classics, "The Front Porch Song," inspired by and written during his days in College Station, Texas.  Keen spent many a night, morning, afternoon, on the front porch of his rented house playing guitar and drinking with his neighbor, Lyle Lovett.  Both would eventually incorporate the song into their repertoires. 

Yes, there was a lot of talk about Texas A&M onstage.  But the crowd was K State all the way.  Horrible purple shirts, tight pocket-less jeans, dip, and pretty young wives dominated the scene.  It’s a wonder why Keen didn’t just mosey his way down to Manhattan for a show the next night. 

Oh yeah, it’s because he was heading to a sold out show in Chicago. 

Yep, Chicago – not exactly a hotbed of country music.  But that’s what makes REK so damn cool.  Part country bumpkin and part Jimmy Buffet, Keen’s songs carry a party vibe, and they all sound like you’ve heard them before.  

As the band’s too short set was winding down they busted out a song that I’ve probably heard covered by various bands over a hundred times – The Rolling Stones’ "You Can’t Always Get What You Want."  REK’s take on the classic was hands down the best version I’ve ever heard.  And that’s not easy to do.  When a song like this is burned into everyone’s brain, having a fresh take can be a challenge. 

Ending the night was the obvious choice, "The Road Goes On Forever," the upbeat Keen story of booze, guns, and love.  Though everyone in the crowd would’ve gladly stuck around for another set or two, I bet nobody left disappointed. 

And I hope Keen is right.  We’re all better off if he is.          

 

Setlist:

Man Behind the Drums (Levon Helm)
Mr. Wolf & Mama Bear
Shades of Grey
Throwin’ Rocks
Corpus Christi Bay
10,000 Chinese Walk into a Bar
Somethin’ I Do
The Rose Hotel
Dreadful Selfish Crime > I Know You Rider
Front Porch Song (solo)
Laughing River (REK and Bill)
Feelin’ Good/Gringo Honeymoon
Merry Christmas From the Family
Amarillo Highway
I’m Comin’ Home
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
The Road Goes on Forever

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