The two old friends couldn’t be more different. That much was apparent from the moment they walked onto the stage at the Eccles Center, Lyle Lovett in a pressed suit and Robert Earl Keen in a sport coat and brown pants.
You see, Lovett and keen have been friends since they both attended college at Texas A&M (This explains all the ‘hook ’em horns’ thrown up in the audience. It was a Texas-heavy crowd) and often in the winter months, they take a stripped-down two-man show on the road. There was nothing on the Eccles stage but barstools, water bottles, five guitars and the two men, who took turns singing songs throughout a two and a half hour set.
While Keen played Lovett sat ramrod straight and looking directly at his friend, and while Lovett played, Keen looked around the room and the stage and was often hunched over his guitar a bit. The two men did occasionally accompany each other on songs, both with guitars and harmonies, but for all intents and purposes, this was a two-man one man show.
This is arguably at least in part because their styles are so different. Lovett’s a smooth and polished machine, with impeccable guitar playing and a dry sense of humor while Keen’s a little more rough around the edges, a little more raw and real in his approach to music. And while the protagonists of Lovett’s songs always have big vocabularies and are very in touch with their feelings, Keen’s characters are more… well… real. This was evident as both men played sets full of some b-sides and their most popular songs.
The one thing each man has in common is the touch—or more— of humor in most of their songs.
And to that end, between songs there was plenty of banter, often initiated by Lovett who seemed to set Keen up with the good jokes, or at least remind him where the jokes were supposed to lead. Sometimes this all felt a little canned—like when Lovett said, “Robert Keen and I are real friends, not fake showbiz friends,” which while true, is a line I’ve read in reviews of their past shows. But there were a few moments that generated what appeared to be genuine laughter from each of them, creating a fly-on-the-wall feel of intimacy.
Robert Earl Keen told stories about his life in small town Texas, including singing a song he claims he wrote at a Starbuck barista’s prompting, he talked about his time as a cowboy and introduced the crowd to what he called “Snapchat songs”—because they only last for 90 seconds, have no repeat chorus and are forgettable. They of course were one of the highlights of the show, because there was no other point at which Keen’s personality was more on display than during a 90 second ditty about a municipal airport or a man done wrong by a fortune cookie.
Lovett, however, seemed more content to set them up so Keen could knock ’em down while focusing most of his storytelling on his and Keen’s early days in College Station before they finished their set with the song they co-wrote together 40-something years ago, “This Old Porch.”
“This is the best,” Keen told Lovett asking, “Who wouldn’t want to be here with a friend onstage?” to which Lovett replied to the audience, “We’d like to thank you folks for letting us pass this off as a show.”
It definitely passed. Hopefully both men will be back to Utah, with their respective bands or with each other, very very soon.