Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Top Dogs: Toby Keith and Eric Church

Locked and Loaded Tour
Pittsburgh, Sept 3 2011

The last country show of the season was blessed by a perfect starry night that topped off a sizzling summer day in Pittsburgh. Chances are, if you were a fan of country music anywhere in the tri-state area you were at the Eric Church / Toby Keith show at Burgettstown: it certainly looked like everyone came out judging by how packed the hill was. Unlike most shows where tailgaters hold out until the headliner before entering the amphitheater, this one brought a capacity-plus crowd in from the tarmac well in time for Eric Church’s set, which could have been a headliner in itself.

 Eric Church is one of those fellows who talks softly in interviews but acts like a crazed pumped-up bottle rocket on stage. His set started with a loud crack at Clutch’s “Electric Worry” which made The Inky Jukebox’s metalhead Sweetie stand up and pay attention. Sure enough, Church delivered a set that would have set light to the lawn had the lawn been, well, drier — like it usually is by this time of year. He picked from among the hits off his first two albums and provided a generous dose of strong songs from his latest release, Chief

Even though Church kicks it old school in his insistence that new records be anticipated like they used to be before the internet allowed you to hear everything in advance, and doesn’t play ANYTHING live before the actual album release date, these songs (which are only a few weeks old, performance-wise) sounded as kick-ass and polished as any of his other material.

Shooter Jennings has perhaps unwisely decided to open a can of whoop-ass in his return to his country roots by releasing as the first single off his new album “Outlaw You,” a song which calls out fellow singers for name-dropping the outlaw aesthetic that Shooter clearly feels is an insult to his Pappy Waylon et al. Trouble is, all it does it make him come across like a kid on the playground hiding in his Dad’s big shadow while being too chicken to name names. The Inky Jukebox has a theory (even though Shooter himself is coy about it) that the dude in the “baseball cap / Who couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat” is Eric Church. Why? Very few of today’s young bucks wear baseball caps as their signature headwear (Luke Bryan and Rodney Atkins are the only other ones The Inky Jukebox can think of, and neither of them pass themselves off as outlaws), so it’s got to be Church he’s after. This seemed to be confirmed by the inclusion of a version of “Gotta Lot of Boot Left To Fill” that seemed particularly crackly; you hear Church spitting out “I don’t think Waylon would have done it that way” and you think Aha. So Shooter’s responding to Church for saying for all his pedigree, he’s inexperienced. This theory was enhanced when Church launched into a solo version of “A Country Boy Can Survive,” which Shooter has appropriated as his own theme song.

He delighted The Inky Jukebox’s metalhead Sweetie by sprinkling a number of Black Sabbath intros into his set that were especially prescient; “Sweet Leaf” for instance with “Smoke A Little Smoke.” By the time he’d slayed his encore and smashed two cans of beer on his chest and drained them, the sun had gone down and the crowd was fired up good and proper.

 Toby Keith’s tour is sponsored by Ford. This is a point he wants to make perfectly clear by displaying Ford advertising everywhere he possibly can, including on the stage monitors and in the videos playing behind him. Clearly, Toby’s fans are the sort of rabid rednecks who like their music patriotic, and he comes through with bells on. And fireworks. And smoke machines. The color theme for his show is red white and blue, son, and don’t you forget it. While Keith isn’t the world’s best singer per se, he is a wholehearted entertainer; his set didn’t let anyone down who came expecting to hear a greatest hits retrospective. A particularly touching moment came when he sang “Should Have Been A Cowboy,” inviting a very young boy in a huge cowboy hat up on stage to play his wee guitar. It must have been an incomprehensible occasion for the boy, who remained tight-lipped while he strummed away, but his parents will never let him forget it. 

During the encore which predictably saved the “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” for the finale, he pulled a serviceman up from the crowd to sing alongside him for the duration — something the chap took to with delighted aplomb. Keith left the crowd with the admonition that we should never apologize for being patriotic (check) which is the very definition of preaching to the choir.

It was a Church choir that night, so I suppose we came for a sermon and got it. The Inky Jukebox’s metalhead Sweetie even sang along to “Beer for my Horses” and demanded some Eric Church to take home with him. That’s what The Inky Jukebox calls Mission Accomplished.

The metalhead Sweetie can be found at The Metal Blog of Metal

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