Posted by: hksounds | September 13, 2015

Review – Robert Earl Keen Streaming online

Robert Earl Keen, Live streaming online from John T. Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Texas for the 20th Anniversary of his ‘No. 2 Live Dinner’ album on “tourgigs.com – September 12, 2015

(Pay-per view viewers could watch a loop of this concert for 24 hours from the date of the concert at http://tourgigs.com/show/robertearlkeen_20150912_live/)

There’s not many performers I’ve ridden four hours on a Greyhound bus to and from a concert in a single day for. In fact Robert Earl Keen is the only performer I’ve ever done that for way back in the 1990s when I went from Portland to Seattle’s Backstage in Ballard when Robert was still an opener for someone else, in this case it was Guy Clark.

Robert takes off his hat to the audience - shows he's still got hair under there

Robert takes off his hat to the audience – shows he’s still got hair under there

This streaming concert was almost as good as being there live, with a better view, higher fidelity and no getting stepped on, bumped, soused or beer doused and no long-distance travel. And yet, it can’t compare to the thrill of being live at a Robert Earl Keen concert. I know whereof I speak because Robert and I go way back to the early days at the Sons of Herman Hall in Dallas back when he was selling cassette tapes in the break and eager to talk to any and everyone who had come to see him. In those days, he even sang ‘Christabel” and he’s said he won’t sing that one again because his mom asked him not to.

But much is still the same, even if most of the old songs have been put aside. If I gave a list of my favorites that he didn’t sing tonight, there’d be enough for another 2 1/2 hour concert.

Robert still sounds remarkably the same, looks the same and continues to exude pleasure in doing what might seem old hat to other performers. There is a delight in his work that is rare and infectious. He looks joyful when he sings. The audiences sing along and one thing that is so special about his songs is that they almost always tell a story, some of which are gleeful while others are poignant and heartbreakingly honest.

Tonight’s concert, morning here in Hong Kong, was filled primarily with the more upbeat and happy songs suggesting he’s moved on from those darker days of “Leaving Tennessee.”

With Lyle Lovett

With Lyle Lovett

He had a number of guests join him on stage, the first being the one with whom he first collaborated in song writing back at Texas A & M, which we know from the stories between and introducing each song that was a characteristic of Robert’s performances for many years, if not still, Lyle Lovett. Together they wrote the “Front Porch Song” which they both recorded but in such different interpretations. This stime we got Lyle’s, deep and serious version instead of Robert’s lighthearated, funny and a lot more believable one, IMHO. But it was nice to hear Lyle and to see them both together onstage.

We got Joe Ely who sang “The Road Goes on Forever” which, since Joe made it a hit, seems fair but

Robert plays back up for Joe Ely

Robert plays back up for Joe Ely

nobody can sing Robert’s songs like he sings them himself. Still it was exciting and lots of fun to hear and watch Joe and the musicians tearing into this ‘trademark’ song.

A highlight for longtime REK fans, was seeing Brian Duckworth come back as a guest. He and Robert go back to the 3rd grade and Brian has been part of not only Robert’s songs and repartee about the songs, e.g., “Bluegrass Widow,” but has also been part of Robert’s band from time to time. His fiddle playing and vocals are a treat.

The energy levels started high and stayed that way. I couldn’t help toe tapping, foot stomping and

Brian Duckworth!

Brian Duckworth!

sometimes dancing and I’m sure no one watching was immune.

For me, part of what makes REK so irresistible, must stem partially from the nostalgia factor that now exists in addition to my admiration for his musical talents that include performing, song writing, heartfelt singing and personal charm. I wanted to hear more from his early albums and, with the exception of the afore mentioned “Front Porch Song,” I think there was only ‘Five-Pound Bass’ “Downtown” and “No Kinda Dancer’ from his very earliest albums. A few, such as and ‘Merry Christmas from the Family, and “The Road Goes on Forever” and “Corpus Christi Bay” were familiar ones as well.

All the songs were welcomed by the audience who sang along with most of them, a common and expected phenomenon at Robert’s concerts since the early days.
There were two opening acts, but the streaming arrangement didn’t allow us to see those groups, one of which was Reckless Kelly, one member came on later as a guest to play harmonica.

When I first saw Robert at the SOHH, he was doing a show by himself, at least that’s how I remember it. From there I saw him as an opening act himself for Nancy Griffith at the Arcadia Theater, for Lyle Lovett at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth, and for Townes Van Zandt on the night of the day I moved out of Texas, a twelve-year stay that would have seemed even and unbearably longer had I not discovered the Texas singer-songwriters and especially Robert Earl Keen, still to me the best that Texas has ever had to offer. Now others open for him.

If you go back through his early albums, you get a clear picture of his romance and love for his wife and the sacrifices and choice he made because of her so although he gave up his Nashville dreams, for her, he looks to have long ago reconciled to his choice to stay and make it as an artist in Texas. I can’t say we the fans have lost out becasue of that in any way.

The last time I saw Robert waist Portland in 2013, when simply by an accident of time and driving route, I spotted his name on the Aladdin Theater marquee. Wow!

Robert Earl Keen

Robert Earl Keen

Watching Robert’s show online and writing about it has made clear to me how much I miss other kinds of music that so rarely make it to Hong Kong. The good news for me is that in the coming weeks, Hong Kong will be hosting in person several world-class, non-classical musicians, including the great Benin artist, Angelique Kidjo, the incomparable Chieftains! Kodo! There’s another band called The Texmaniacs. I don’t know who they are but I’m going to find out. Of course, the finest classical musicians haven’t stopped coming. How lucky can one person get?

Thank you, Robert Earl Keen, Jr.

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