Toby Keith on stage at Cricket Wireless Pavilion in Phoenix.
It's a shame Toby Keith will always be The Angry American. In mainstream consciousness, the Oklahoma-born country singer is a Bush-loving neocon who's always ready to put his boot in Osama bin Laden's ass, thereby making his best effort to preserve The American Way.
Though it's certainly arguable that society needed a self-appointed Director of Jingoistic Activities to rally around eight years ago -- and that Toby, though a nominal "Democrat," filled that role pretty well -- his focus on patriotism in the years since has put his real talent in the back of the extended cab. While Toby is a forceful, if wrongheaded, political commentator, he's at his best as a commentator on everyday life, sharing his sharp insights in to blue-collar workdays, barfights, and snobby women.
Luckily, the healthy, mixed-age crowd that showed up at Cricket Wireless Pavilion last night was treated to a nice run of songs from Toby's beer-and-chicks phase before the star-spangled encore that saw him play "American Soldier" and "The Angry American."
Taking stage following an extended commercial for Ford trucks (as the sponsors of the tour, Ford had product placement spots everywhere, including a mock F-150 tailgate that served as a drum riser) which showed Keith besting a "death metal" act dressed like Kiss, as well as Yanni, Eminem and Jonas Brothers stand-ins. Now, I'm not really in Ford's target demographic here, it's true, but I found it to be a little over the top. Should a barely-solvent automaker really be making every effort to offend people who listen to music besides country or don't drive the exact vehicle being advertised? It was a lot like watching Calvin piss on a Chevy logo for five minutes, and made me proud to drive a Nissan.
Anyway, opening with "Big Dog Daddy," the perennially-misunderstood Keith soon turned to relationships, playing "High Maintenance Woman," as a video of a woman's hand put "honey do" post-it notes across the screen. It was just one of many moments that demonstrated people who think Keith's feud with The Dixie Chicks started out as purely political hadn't followed either act's career: Keith has always been a man's man who occasionally borders on chauvinistic, Natalie and the chicks have always been the country-fried version of Smith College girls, focused on escaping to Wide Open Spaces, killing your husband to get away if necessary. They're fundamentally at odds, even before they talk politics.
A few songs later, Keith dropped in the classics "I Wanna Talk About Me" and "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" before entering a short ballad phase. Then, he dropped a killer six song streak that included his very best work (full set list below) along with the humorous "I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again," a fantastic ditty that seems a little out of step with the new pro Law and Order Toby we saw singing the praises of cops and firemen later in the show.
Keith also dropped in a cover of Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold," mentioning that he spoke with The Nuge, who is hunting in Africa, earlier in the day (read the interview where Ted threatens to kick my ass here). Following chants of "U.S.A!" Keith returned to play his two most patriotic songs while red, white and blue fireworks and confetti shot in to the crowd. For a lot of people I imagine it was a highlight of the night -- me, I just wanna hear Toby talk about women and whiskey.
"Big Dog Daddy" "High Maintenance Woman" "Whiskey Girl" "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight" God Love Her" "American Ride" "I Wanna Talk About Me" "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" "You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like That" "She Never Cried In Front of Me" "Who's Your Daddy?" "I Ain't As Good As I Once Was" "I Love This Bar" "Should've Been A Cowboy" "I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again" "Beer For My Horses" "How Do You Like Me Now" "A Little Less Talk and A Lot More Action" "Stranglehold" (Ted Nugent cover)
Encore: "American Soldier" "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)"
Last Night: Toby Keith's America's Toughest Tour at Cricket Wireless Pavilion