ATLANTA — If you were wondering what Toby Keith had to say on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, here you go: “Never apologize for being patriotic. F*** ‘em!” And with that, he finished his concert here at the Lakewood Amphitheatre on Thursday night.
Keith has never been shy in front of a microphone, but he was in rare form throughout the outdoor show, dropping numerous expletives in his lyrics and within his off-the-cuff remarks. A surprising number of kids in the audience were hanging onto every word. However, he saved his patriotic remarks until the encore.
“Somebody said it was something about 9/11,” he declared, after returning to the stage a few minutes after the main set. “It’s not a celebration, but that’s a holiday we should never forget.” Before he began singing his last few songs, he extended his gratitude to American soldiers in uniform, as well as “to all your families and all Americans who appreciate you.”
He slightly amended the lyrics to “American Soldier” by singing, “I don’t do it for the politics/That s*** sucks anyway.” People applauded, and when he was done performing the song, he declared, “Sarah Palin’s got an American soldier.” Without really taking it any farther, he added, “That’s not political. That’s real people.” Of course, the final song was “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which brought the show to a rousing finale.
Up until that point, everything seemed smoothly scripted with familiar banter and a bunch of hit songs that helped sell the tickets in the first place. Keith graciously thanked the Atlanta firefighters, the police force, the highway patrol and the FBI for allowing him to party like he wants to. (Not sure why the FBI is involved.) He dropped the F-bomb again when he was talking about people who didn’t want to sing along with “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again.” And he also told us he likes to watch naked movies sometimes. Leading up to that, he had already commented on “punk-ass boys,” “titty dancers” and “all you sons of bitches in the audience.” Fortunately, amid all the talking, he sang some songs, as well.
Because his career was a slow-but-steady build, it’s gratifying to see him play the sheds, and he still grins from ear to ear when the crowd reacts to his monster hits. He kicked off the night with “She’s a Hottie,” but once he got around to “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight,” “Whiskey Girl” and especially “I Wanna Talk About Me,” the crowd was in the palm of his hand. I don’t know why he skipped “My List.” Maybe it’s because he didn’t write it, although it was a No. 1 hit for five weeks.
For the people in the audience holding up patriotic signs and American flags, he connected with them by tugging at his shirt (and presumably, his heart). During “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” he turned the microphone around to face the people so he could hear them sing along. Looking around, I’ve never seen so much camouflage in an audience — and that doesn’t count the people I couldn’t even really see in the yard.
Keith’s new album, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy, will be released on Oct. 28, and the project’s first single, “She Never Cried in Front of Me” made a favorable impression. It’s about a guy whose ex-girlfriend is getting married. Although he clearly loves to sing “the redneck songs,” as he calls them, he excels with ballads like “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This.” And it’s futile to resist singing along with radio favorites like “Beer for My Horses” and “How Do You Like Me Now?!”
Montgomery Gentry have been on Keith’s Biggest & Baddest tour all summer long, and they’re almost as candid as the headliner. I couldn’t make out everything he said, but at one point, Eddie Montgomery stated that Washington D.C., needs to lower the damn gas prices, and by the way, they can kiss his ass. On the flip side, his charismatic musical partner, Troy Gentry, keeps the talk to a minimum but sings like a pro. You can tell these guys came up in the bar scene because they’re so comfortable on stage, and they carry themselves like two guys you wouldn’t mind having a beer (or a bourbon) with.
Montgomery was insistent upon thanking American heroes, which is a noble effort and deserves to be mentioned on an important anniversary, but I think he uttered that phrase about a dozen times in less than an hour. And all his goofing around is funny to watch from the crowd, but when you’ve got him framed in the telephoto lens of your camera, and he starts “falling” toward you, it’s not exactly hilarious. Yet, I do have a soft spot for them. During their set, they fulfilled the dream of a Make-a-Wish kid from Arizona, who pretty much stole the show by joining them for a fervent rendition of “My Town.”
When the lights came up at the end of the night, a young man next to me asked if he could write something for my story. Nobody has ever requested that of me before, so I handed him my small notebook, to ensure that he wouldn’t be misquoted. Instead of my own clever closing remarks, let me turn it over to Michael Paul, an 18-year-old from McDonough, Ga.:
“There could never be a better concert on 9/11 than that of a Toby Keith concert!”
I’m certain he’s not alone in that sentiment.