September 1st, 2011

Loopster Live: Robert Earl Keen’s Ready for Confetti CD Release at Cactus Music

I’ve been a fan of Robert Earl Keen for about eight years now. A year or so after I went to college and escaped the no country-ish music of any kind except Marshall Tucker ban set by my folks. It wasn’t “Road Goes On Forever,” that got me hooked to his story telling ways—it was “If I Were King,” coming from a classic jukebox, in a dank basement bar in Denton, Texas. Since then, I’ve been hoping, like a hangover hopes for bacon, to see Mr. Keen live. Even if it’s for only an hour. Yesterday at Cactus Music, my wish was granted—sort of.

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Getting there some 30 minutes early, with a friend of mine who had seen REK four times already, we found a good spot and stood. We patiently played the waiting game, not just for the show to start, but for my wife to arrive and the beer to be distributed. Minutes came and went, two of those three things occurred. Sipping our Saint Arnold, the three of us craned our necks toward the front door of Cactus Music.

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And the man comes around, albeit looking pissed. Was it the misstep of wearing a charcoal sport coat in August? Head forward, he trucked his way to the stage, grabbed his guitar, strummed a time or two and dove right into “Play Train Song” from the new album. On Tuesday, I was somewhat apprehensive about the tune when I first heard it. Something about how he can’t quite hit, “boots.” After this first, live listen, it firmly fits into the better songs on the album.

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He introduces himself and fellow musician, Bill Whitbeck. They’re both from around Houston originally, Keen from a place where they shoot roman candles from the back of riding lawn mowers. Whitbeck from La Porte—”Yeah, we always get the one hand clapping, with that one.” They jump into “Who Do Man” next. I can’t help but hear strong similarities with “Gone On” from his Farm Fresh Onions album. Both descent songs.

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I was hoping for a story, like on the live albums—REK delivered. He went into how he and Whitbeck came up with “Man Behind the Drums” from The Rose Hotel. Through a mumbled speech, I gathered that he was in New York with Mark Lavon Helm, jamming with twenty-something musicians on a 4×8 piece of plywood. “Lavon Helm, is as tiny has he looks, I tried to put ‘em in my pocket, they wouldn’t let me.”

He finished up “Man Behind the Drums” and said he’d be over on the side towards the door to sign whatever needed signing. Three songs and he was finished. Underwhelming, even when I was expecting a limited set. Maybe, it’s that he seemed out of it. Everyone’s entitled to bad days. Hell, touring and promoting have got to take their toll. Maybe, my expectations were too high, especially for an in-store performance.

Chances are, I’ll seek out another live performance. Maybe that’ll put this one in better perspective. Anyone else go? What’d you think? In any case, thanks for bringin’ him in, Cactus.

— Richard

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