Toby Keith on stage at Cricket Wireless Pavilion in Phoenix.
Though it's certainly arguable that society needed a self-appointed Director of Jingoistic Activities to rally around eight years ago -- and that Toby, though a nominal "Democrat," filled that role pretty well -- his focus on patriotism in the years since has put his real talent in the back of the extended cab. While Toby is a forceful, if wrongheaded, political commentator, he's at his best as a commentator on everyday life, sharing his sharp insights in to blue-collar workdays, barfights, and snobby women.
Luckily, the healthy, mixed-age crowd that showed up at Cricket Wireless Pavilion last night was treated to a nice run of songs from Toby's beer-and-chicks phase before the star-spangled encore that saw him play "American Soldier" and "The Angry American."
Anyway, opening with "Big Dog Daddy," the perennially-misunderstood Keith soon turned to relationships, playing "High Maintenance Woman," as a video of a woman's hand put "honey do" post-it notes across the screen. It was just one of many moments that demonstrated people who think Keith's feud with The Dixie Chicks started out as purely political hadn't followed either act's career: Keith has always been a man's man who occasionally borders on chauvinistic, Natalie and the chicks have always been the country-fried version of Smith College girls, focused on escaping to Wide Open Spaces, killing your husband to get away if necessary. They're fundamentally at odds, even before they talk politics.
A few songs later, Keith dropped in the classics "I Wanna Talk About Me" and "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" before entering a short ballad phase. Then, he dropped a killer six song streak that included his very best work (full set list below) along with the humorous "I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again," a fantastic ditty that seems a little out of step with the new pro Law and Order Toby we saw singing the praises of cops and firemen later in the show.
Keith also dropped in a cover of Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold," mentioning that he spoke with The Nuge, who is hunting in Africa, earlier in the day (read the interview where Ted threatens to kick my ass here). Following chants of "U.S.A!" Keith returned to play his two most patriotic songs while red, white and blue fireworks and confetti shot in to the crowd. For a lot of people I imagine it was a highlight of the night -- me, I just wanna hear Toby talk about women and whiskey.
"Big Dog Daddy"
"High Maintenance Woman"
"I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight"
God Love Her"
"I Wanna Talk About Me"
"Get Drunk and Be Somebody"
"You Shouldn't Kiss Me Like That"
"She Never Cried In Front of Me"
"Who's Your Daddy?"
"I Ain't As Good As I Once Was"
"I Love This Bar"
"Should've Been A Cowboy"
"I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again"
"Beer For My Horses"
"How Do You Like Me Now"
"A Little Less Talk and A Lot More Action"
"Stranglehold" (Ted Nugent cover)
"Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)"
Last Night: Toby Keith's America's Toughest Tour at Cricket Wireless Pavilion
Better Than: George Jones at Celebrity. Jones is a little pst his prime and didn't play his signature song, "No Show Jones."
Personal Bias: Real Democrat -- not a Toby Democrat that votes for Bush twice. I do tend to agree with our freelancer Brian Bardwell who says you can't hate Toby, though.
Random Fact: I tend to agree with my pal Jess Harter that Toby's restaurant does a lot better with their pulled pork and fried bologna sandwiches than their over-priced appetizers.
Further Listening: "Stays in Mexico," a song I would have liked to hear last night. If a song has a character from Phoenix, Arizona in it, you should play it when you come here.
By the Way: Has a worse country song than Trace Adkins' "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk?" Yes, but only songs recorded by Kenny Chesney and Big & Rich. I'd be happier if all three acts disappeared forever.