One of my favorite jokes goes like this:
How do you know someone’s from Texas?
They’ll tell you.
But another surefire way to tell someone’s from Texas is their attendance at a Robert Earl Keen show—and last night the Lone Star State was packed in at The Commonwealth Room to see one of their own in action. It’s basically a required pilgrimage for any Texas ex-pat.
Aside from being very Texan, the crowd was overwhelmingly male, a mix of young and old and a combination of drunk and really drunk. And they knew every word that came out of the singer-songwriter’s mouth and were happy to sing along, just like every REK show, anywhere in America. They hoist up their beers (speaking of, in Texas, you can get a Robert Earl Keen-branded brew). They shout out the lyrics to songs, well-known and not—especially the Tabernacle Choir line in “Feeling Good Again,” of course). They dance. The shout lyrics. They can turn any joint into a Texas roadhouse.
And that’s what happened last night.
Keen tours heavily—this was his fourth show in less than a year in the greater Salt Lake area and his first at the relatively new venue and he came out punching straight out of the chute. “What I Really Mean,” “Feeling Good Again” and “Gringo Honeymoon” in quick succession started off the energetic set.
The singer was all business without a whole lot of his trademarked chatter between songs, except for a couple one-liners and an extended spoken word interlude during “The Front Porch Song” cleverly detailing his years at Texas A&M (which the mere mention of garnered cheers and hook ’em horns from the crowd—of course) and his decades-long friendship with Lyle Lovett.
It’s easy with Keen’s character-driven story-telling to forget that the man and his band are consummate musicians. Flawless in it’s presentation, a Robert Earl Keen show is a masterclass for traveling musicians. These guys play song after song, every night—including one Christmas song, even in August—and they do it with so much joy and exuberance that you’d think they’d never done it before.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think a nightclub, rather than Texas, was Robert Earl Keen’s home. But it makes sense for the always-touring Keen. Just like the song says—his road goes on forever—and for his audience, the party never ends.
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