Toby Keith's jingoistic anthem about sticking a boot you-know-where made him country music's biggest star. Seven years, later, though, it's a cringe-inducing reminder of an ongoing war carried out on false pretexts. Like the outmoded full-size Ford pickup trucks for which he shills, Keith's music has come to represent the old, dead America that President Barack Obama has pledged to resuscitate. Nonetheless, a reported capacity crowd of 20,000 attended his performance Friday at the Ford Amphitheatre.
Keith's most famous and controversial number, Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American) worked extremely well as an understandably violent, knee-jerk reaction to the savage "sucker punch" that was 9/11. But like so many of the singer's hits, almost all of which he has written or co-written, it sounded flat, ancient and irrelevant when he offered it up as a finale Friday at the rain-soaked Ford Amphitheatre. It's the same song with which he closed an excellent 2004 Ford Amphitheatre performance and another tired one at the same venue in 2008.
Keith rewarded his fans — many completely drenched from a downpour — by making them endure a nearly 10-minute Ford F-Series commercial before he took the stage. Lest anyone forget that Keith is a Ford man, there were two giant signs and the rear of a faux F-150 right behind the singer. The tour, incidentally, is dubbed "America's Toughest," as in the ad slogan "Built Ford Tough."
Keith and his army of about a dozen musicians opened with the shameless Johnny B. Goode rewrite Big Dog Daddy, the title track from Keith's lackluster 2007 album. The pros in the band were spot-on and slick. The songs all sounded pretty much exactly as they were recorded.
She's a Hottie, one of the singer's weakest semi-hits of the past couple of years, found Keith clearly forcing a grin as he delivered the sophomoric lyric. The 47-year-old entertainer sounded and appeared spirited, though, when he performed God Love Her. It's a stirring tale sung from the perspective of a bad boy who runs away with the preacher's daughter. Yeah, it's a cliched scenario, but Keith's reading proved rather moving. The song is culled from his latest album, That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy.
Momentum built, expectations rose, and then came the 2001 smash I Want to Talk About Me. Keith grappled with the country rap novelty tune's vocals. The concert never really recovered.
Keith debuted a bland new song titled, I think, It's American Life. Keith's finest tune, the outstanding revenge kiss-off, How Do You Like Me Now? didn't sound nearly as fun and grabby as when I first smiled at hearing it played on the radio nearly a decade ago — or when I witnessed it performed live in '04. Alas, another one of my Keith favorites, [I Ain't] As Good as I Once Was summed up the night's performance.