Toby Keith staked out his territory as country music’s newest bad boy Wednesday night (Feb. 27) by playing to the baddest, hardest-to-impress crowd of them all—country radio programmers. The occasion was the Country Radio Seminar’s “Super Faces Show,” held at the Nashville Convention Center’s Performance Hall.
Anyone who fears that country music is losing its blue-collar vulgarity would have been reassured by the film clip that opened Keith’s show. It featured a tough-looking bulldog named Toby who trots down the street, leering at female dogs and short-skirted women. The dog’s generally lascivious thoughts as he wades through the festival of flesh (“I never had twins before,” “[they] must be lesbians,” “my view of the world’s getting better all the time”) are delivered in Keith’s own voice. Occasionally, the attitudinal mutt lifts his leg to loose a stream of presumably crowd-pleasing social criticism.
Backed by a nine-piece band (including a three-man horn section), Keith led the crowd through a 75-minute sampling of his hits. At one point, he scorned the idea of using concert time to introduce songs from a new album instead of playing the familiar songs people had come to hear. He also reminisced about his first CRS appearance: “I did the ‘New Faces Show’ around 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s nice to be remembered after a decade.”
Keith opened with such high-energy fare as “Pull My Chain,” “Country Comes to Town” and “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight” before gearing down for the more romantic “Dream Walkin’.”
For the first seven songs, the white-hatted, black-jacketed singer stood solidly at center stage, playing guitar. But he swapped the guitar for a portable mic to pace dramatically while delivering an impassioned, operatic rendition of his 1996 hit, “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine on You.” At his best moments, such as this one, he displays one of the most commanding and engaging voices in country music.
Keith invited the audience to sing the punch-line in “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action,” while he roamed the two-level stage set to stand beside each band member.
Late in the show, Keith surprised everyone by inviting “a legend,” Chubby Checker, to the stage. Still energetic at 60, the classic rocker undulated through his signature hit, “The Twist,” and brought the crowd to its feet for the first time of the evening. “Damn, he looked good, didn’t he,” Keith marveled.
Leading into his rollicking “You Ain’t Much Fun” and “Getcha Some,” Keith identified himself as ” the official spokesperson for the “American Redneck Society”; but he warned, “Don’t confuse us with the toothless people who fight each other on the ‘Jerry Springer Show.’”
Keith concluded his set with “Let’s Talk About Me” but was applauded back on stage to do his breakthrough hit, “How Do You Like Me Now.” “I wasn’t sure at Radio Seminar this was going to happen,” he said with obvious relief.
“Pull My Chain”
“Country Comes to Town”
“I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight”
“Should’ve Been a Cowboy”
“Wish I Didn’t Know Now”
“Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine on You”
“You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This”
“A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action”
“The Twist” (performed by Chubby Checker)
“You Ain’t Much Fun”
“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”
“I Wanna Talk About Me”
“How Do You Like Me Now”