Concert Review: Robert Earl Keen / Emory Quinn at House of Blues

from Pegasus News on

I really, really hate leading a concert review with yet another whine about Dallas crowds, so let's suppose that this happens everywhere Robert Earl Keen goes: He and his longtime band deliver a full two hours of masterful songcraft and skillful cross-genre jamming, while an audience largely made up of thirtysomething screamers trying to relive their frat years drunkenly miss and distract from just about everything but that Christmas song and those two that always end the show.

Yes, I've had my morning coffee. It's just that Keen is one of my favorite singer-songwriters and I've had my share of frustrating experiences at his shows. I'm no prude who expects silence and to never have to move to make way for bar traffic -- but I draw the line at being pushed and yelled at for moving too slowly. My last non-festival attempt was a sold-out show at Billy Bob's where I had to walk out during the ballads lest I start a fight with one of my thousand closest frat brothers.

As he showed at House of Blues last night, Keen has learned to keep the tunes uptempo for maximum attention from his audience. In fact, I believe he's learned how gracefully to play the road that artists like Jimmy Buffett tread: You're a great songwriter who endlessly tours every beerhall you can find. Along the way, you knock a couple songs out of the park and gain a rabid fanbase whose chief memory of your shows is the drunken antics with their pals and the hangover that followed.

And those couple songs that always end the show. For artists like Keen, this goes beyond Johnny Cash's advice to never write a song you're not prepared to sing every night -- it means having to work your ass off to get attention for the other fifteen in the set.

And work he does, as hard as he must have for the $2 for a day of hard labor for his landlord Jack Boyett while not studying at Texas A&M. He and his band, all of whom have been with him for years, tore right into a series of his old-school singalong favorites. And while he was in fine voice and the band was working every song hard, you could tell (if you were paying attention) that the band's smiles got bigger and their energy level rose on songs from the latter-day catalog, off-kilter jam-filled explorations like "Farm Fresh Onions" and quirky country-psychedelic talking blues like "10,000 Chinese Walk Into a Bar" -- even as the goodly-sized crowd drifted towards loud conversations and stumbling bar trips.

In recent years, Keen and band have edged closer to a jam-band vibe -- as if to underline that, the Keen classic "Dreadful Selfish Crime" seamlessly segued into a Grateful Dead-inspired cover of the traditional "I Know You Rider."

That wasn't the only interesting sideroad. "Copenhagen" segued into what I thought was an ad-libbed tune by bassist Bill Whitbeck about a GPS misspelling "New Braunfels" as "New Braunsfels." (The Googles tell me they've been doing that for a while.) It was a cute segue, regardless.

After an extended acoustic storytelling version of "The Front Porch Song," Keen started playing a bit with expectations, telling a story about seeing his dad at the holidays and how he always wanted to hear that one song...

He repeated that motif for three consecutive classics that weren't "Merry Christmas From the Family" before finally capitulating. And of course, we got the main set close of "Road Goes on Forever," which is as it always is, fun to hear live.

An encore of "I'm Comin' Home" didn't match my memory of the delicate acoustic version on No 2 Live Dinner, instead being a slicker up-tempo full band affair.

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Eryaman Odtülüler Dershanesi