UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- For better or worse, Toby Keith can't shy away from big production values.
Photo Credit: Tali Greener
Upon his entrance at his Big Dog Daddy tour -- which stopped Thursday and Friday (Feb. 28-29) in Uncasville, Conn. -- fans get a trailer for a fake film, The Adventures of Big Dog Daddy and Possum Boy. It's Keith, easily bringing down ruffians, while Possum Boy -- Larry the Cable Guy -- plays dead and wets his spandex suit.
As the trailer ends, the screen falls to the floor and an array of loud and bright pyrotechnics usher in the headliner as he breaks into the title track from his latest album, Big Dog Daddy.
It only makes sense for the versatile Keith to show off his cinematic side. The superstar has been working on a new feature film, Beer for My Horses, in between dates of his current tour.
As Keith's image grows -- which it has since his 1999 album, How Do You Like Me Now?! -- his concerts become more involved and complex. At Thursday's show at Mohegan Sun Arena, it seemed to take a while for Keith to become comfortable with the involved production, but once he was, it resulted in a fulfilling experience.
A strong example of the involved production is Keith's infatuation with and contractual obligations to his tour sponsor, the Ford Motor Co. He not only promoted Ford trucks in his faux movie trailer, but his drummer was perched atop a larger-than-life Ford truck grill.
And the production values didn't stop there. Confetti showered fans during "Beer for My Horses," "Stays in Mexico" and popular encore closer, "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)." Smoke filled the light-drenched stage at numerous occasions, and three circular screens displayed Keith in all his smiling glory during most of the show.
When Keith pulled out all the stops, it sounded a bit forced, as he barely moved from his center stage position. He was best, however, when delivering his less-polished tracks. "Should've Been a Cowboy," his first hit released in 1993, had fans singing along and Keith looking completely content. "How Do You Like Me Now?!," which came very late during his set, had Keith posturing about the stage in a comfort zone not seen throughout the show.
This late portion of the set found Keith meeting energy with production for a few lighthearted songs that also included "Who's Your Daddy?" and "As Good as I Once Was." The set closer, "A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action," had the entire crowd singing along and dancing while Keith even threw in a few bars of Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold."
Keith also delivered the hits from Big Dog Daddy, giving straightforward performances of "High Maintenance Woman" and "Get My Drink On." A subdued "Love Me If You Can" found Keith up front and serious, a very poignant and serious moment during the evening. It showed to be a very fitting choice from Keith's song catalog when played live.
The recent album wasn't the big attraction, however, as fans received a dose of all of Keith's big hits from across his career. "Honkytonk U" was accompanied by photos from the Keith family album, "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" put the camera on fans (who were supposed to do as the song says), "I Wanna Talk About Me" featured a reprise, a tool Keith used many times throughout the night.
Keith also had the crowd sing along to his hits. "I Love This Bar" and crowd favorite "I'll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again" had fans exercising their vocal cords.
Keith gave the microphone to longtime background singer and new artist Mica Roberts, who got some assistance from her boss as she sang her first single, "Things a Mama Don't Know." She followed it up with "Smoke From a Distant Fire," a 1997 pop hit for the Sanford/Townsend Band. Roberts records for Keith's record label, Show Dog Nashville.
Show Dog mates Carter's Chord opened the show -- backed by Trailer Choir -- with a fine, breezy set that included single "Young Love," which is climbing the Billboard country singles chart.
Providing an 11-song set prior to Keith's performance, Gary Allan made his entrance by rising from under a high platform and then singing his most recent hit, "Watching Airplanes." Allan emphasized songs from his most recent album, Living Hard, although he also offered a selection of his hits, including "Nothing On but the Radio" and "The One."
Tim Malcolm is a writer for the Norwich Bulletin in Norwich, Conn.
View photos from Toby Keith's concert.