Monday, February 15, 2010

Robert Earl Keen @ Joe's

Back in September or so there was the possibility of Robert coming up to Chicago with Todd Snider and Bruce Robison on their acoustic tour and i was hoping that would happen at Joe's but it ultimately did not so i was thrilled to hear that Robert was coming up in February with his whole amazing band and so was everyone else because the place was packed. Robert Earl Keen is revered by his contemporaries and is someone to look up to if your an aspiring Texas musician. If you want to learn about great songwriting you do not have to look any further than any Robert Earl Keen song. Nearly all of the songs Robert has written since his days of hanging out on the front porch with Lyle Lovett can be used as movie scripts or the basis for a good novel. He packs so much detail and so much character study into his songs that they offer a visual picture in your mind of what the land, the people and the conditions are like that inspired the songs. He may not have lived out each one but trying to figure out which ones he has and has not is not easily done. Trying to write something about Robert Earl can easily take up the whole page and trying to say something that hasn't already been said is nearly impossible so all i can do is write about what i know, which is good advice for songwriters too.Bobby Bare Jr. opened the show for Robert and i have to admit that i just don't get that guy, i have tried, i liked his dad's music but maybe there is just something i'm missing when it comes to him but i heard that the crowd was disrespectful to him and it affected his performance unfortunately but it made me want to have Robert on that stage even more which is actually sometimes a good thing as far as an opening act is concerned because you don't want the openers to be better than the headliner right?
Robert has been in a great mood lately, he's happy and it shows in his stage presence and in his song choices, he dug back all the way to his first self funded independent album "No Kinda Dancer" from 1984 right up to his latest release "The Rose Hotel" on Universal Nashville records. Robert is on a major label but this one seems smart enough not to mess with his creativity so things seem to be going well. Robert has retained his sly sense of humor throughout the years and its as sharp as ever but he can also convey a serious side as good as anyone through some of my favorite songs like "Mariano" and "Shades of Grey" as well as "Flyin Shoes" which is a great cover on his latest album originally done by the great Townes Van Zandt and i was thinking that if Townes were still with us maybe he would play a show at Joe's one day.The crowd seemed to be very familiar with Robert's music and when he mentioned "I always have to play a fishing song after i play a love song" everyone immediately yelled out "Five Pound Bass" and a lot of people seemed to connect with his between songs story telling about life in Texas. Robert lives the life as close as he can and he lives on a working ranch with his wife when he is not on tour so a lot of the Texas borderland and rural Texas experiences come through in his songs.Robert Earl Keen's band is absolutely top notch with Tom Van Schaik on drums, Marty Muse offering up some phrases on the Pedal steel guitar, Bill Whitbeck on Bass and the fantastic playing on lead guitar by Rich Brotherton. Rich has lent his talent to everyone from Eliza Gilkyson to Rich O'Toole and many more as a musician and producer. Bill Whitbeck has contributed to albums by Aaron Watson to Rodney Hayden and also has his own record out called "Radio Caroline" which was released back in November to good reviews. Marty Muse has been featured on many recordings too, ranging from Robbie Fulks to Bruce Robison to Dwight Yoakam and as of 2009 he is working on his own release. Tom Van Schaik was the original drummer with the Dixie Chicks for over 6 years before joining Robert. Each of these guys have their own websites or Myspace sites. Robert came out to sign merchandise for fans and i bought a copy of "Undone" for him to sign and he also signed my hat and that just about completes that one and its about time to start another and i also got to talk with Robert after the show for a while. I would highly recommend "Undone" to anyone who is new to Robert's music or to long time fans because it really puts Robert's songwriting skills on display as each song was chosen by his peers and performed acoustically at a tribute to Robert at the Musicfest in Steamboat Springs Colorado back in 2008. Just like Charlie Robison stated on stage next to Robert at the Musicfest "ive been out hatted by Robert Earl" no one can out hat REK. Click here for more photos from the show at Joes in Chicago.

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