Just as advertised, the Incognito Bandito (aka Toby Keith) rode in from the trail Tuesday night (June 19) to delight a door-busting crowd at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley nightclub with an hour-long program of cover tunes.
The Bandito was there to help pay medical bills for Jan Grantt, the cancer-stricken wife of Keith’s bass player, Kevin “Swine” Grantt.
The singers were backed by members of Keith’s road band and various Nashville session musicians.
The crowd began gathering when the doors opened at 6 p.m. By 8 p.m., when the show started, every street, alley and parking lot surrounding the club was thick with cars.
Keith went on at 10:55 p.m. and bowed off just minutes before midnight.
Keith ambled onto the stage unannounced and unapplauded, a guitar strapped to his back, while an auction was going on.
Waiting until the bidding concluded, he moved into the spotlight and blasted off with the Johnny Paycheck bad-boy lament from 1976, “11 Months and 29 Days.” From there, he shifted smoothly into Roger Miller’s bouncy 1964 hit, “Chug-a-Lug,” to which the crowd swayed along happily.
Occasionally, Keith let the band vamp between songs while he thumbed through sheets of music stacked on a nearby stand.
With drums pounding like a pile driver, Keith marched fiercely into and through the Johnnie Taylor gambling standard, “Last Two Dollars.”
“I just went over to the [Country Music] Hall of Fame for the first time in 10 years to see the Bakersfield exhibit,” Keith told the crowd. “We’re going to do you a Buck Owens song.”
With that, he roared into “Truck Drivin’ Man,” the now iconic road celebration Terry Fell wrote and first recorded in 1964, but which Owens soon after covered in a more memorable version.
“If you haven’t got satellite radio, you probably haven’t heard this song,” Keith announced as the band glided into Three Dog Night’s dreamy 1973 travelogue, “Shambala.”
Waylon Jennings’ assertively folksy “Waymore’s Blues” followed, then Keith’s primal take of Bill Withers’ 1971 classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Keith wrapped up the evening with soulful renderings of ZZ Tops’ “Mexican Blackbird,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” (1974) and the Chuck Berry-penned club standard, “Memphis.”
With all the auctions between sets, it was a long and unevenly paced evening, made even more onerous by an audience given to carrying on loud conversations no matter who was onstage.
Then there was a gratuitous Bible-reading by the Sisters vocal trio and a prayer from Worley, who asserted that it was fine with him if his buddy-to-buddy chat with the Almighty drove the less devout away, an option, alas, not available to all.
Worley also performed “Have You Forgotten,” his pro-war song from 2003 that sounded about as relevant this evening as “The Battle of New Orleans.”
Still, with his commanding voice and larger-than-life presence, Worley was a real crowd-pleaser.
“They said to do three songs,” he explained. “I thought, ‘Hell, I’ll do three No. 1′s.’ I’d like to say there were more. But that’s about it.”
True to his word, Worley began with “Awful, Beautiful Life” (2004), segued to the heartbreaking “I Miss My Friend” (2002) and exited with “Have You Forgotten.”
When he substituted the original line, “Don’t tell me not to worry about Bin Ladin,” with “Now we don’t have to worry about Bin Ladin,” several in the crowd jumped to their feet and applauded wildly.
Turner also lighted up the proceedings, initially by singing two of his hits, “Your Man” and “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” and then by taking over an auction to bid up the price on his own autographed sheet music, picture and album.
Willmon opened the show with a two-song set that concluded with “On Again Tonight.”
The always-buoyant Morgan came through with “This Ole Boy” and “Almost Home.”
Working as a trio and each picking a guitar, Jackson, Cordle and Salley imparted a bluegrass feel via “Lonesome Standard Time,” “Paper and Pen” and “No Future in the Past,” the Vince Gill hit from 1993 that Gill co-wrote with Jackson.
Shepherd came through strong with “Look It Up” and “Sounds So Good.” Thompson offered his current single, “Comin’ Around,” and his breakthrough hit, “Way Out Here.”
Songwriter Curtis Wright sang his regretful rumination, “Guess That’s Why He’s God and I’m Not,” as Keith adjusted his guitar and prepared to go on.