Monday, May 26, 2008

Robert Earl Keen in St. Louis

Lola and I decide we need a bit of a road trip having not escaped Madison since driving to Champaign to see James McMurtry in the bitter mid-winter cold. Searching for ideas, we discover Robert Earl Keen is playing The Pageant in St. Louis the Saturday night of Memorial Day Weekend, and the destination is settled. Since he doesn’t need to tour outside of Texas, it seems like a fair deal to meet him halfway when he does take the show on the road.

Artist Direct: Among the large contingent of talented songwriters who emerged in Texas in the 1980s and 1990s, Robert Earl Keen struck an unusual balance between sensitive story-portraits ("Corpus Christi Bay") and raucous barroom fun ("That Buckin' Song"). These two song types in Keen's output were unified by a mordant sense of humor that strongly influenced the early practitioners of what would become known as alternative country music.

The North Mississippi Allstars open with each band doing 75 minute sets. Lola and I settle into seats on the wing and chat with three couples from childhood friendships who similarly converge on this show from various parts of Missouri. I venture into the stage front crowd when the band plays “the road goes on forever and the party never ends”.

Keen closes with Bob Dylan’s You Ain't Going Nowhere which is first recorded in 1968 by The Byrds on their seminal roots country album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It’s a pleasant surprise and appropriate in that Sweetheart, arguably, is the recording that marks the abrupt about face from the excesses of psychedelia and back towards an appreciation of the music created by American working people.