Everything about Toby Keith is big; from his stature to the nickname Big Dog Daddy. Of course, his shows must follow suit.
A sold-out First Niagara Pavilion waited patiently on a perfect Saturday evening as the lawn filled under the full moon. After a five-minute sketch comedy commercial featuring Carrot Top for tour sponsor Ford, the 6’3” Oklahoman opened amid pyro and smoke clad in his signature button-down shirt and straw cowboy hat with “Haven’t Had A Drink All Day,” a song from his 16th album, ”Hope On The Rocks.”
It set the tone for a two-hour hard-partying/pro America rally. Three songs actually had “America” in the title.
Despite a regular release schedule, Mr. Keith doesn’t really tour in support of new material but features a generous greatest-hits setlist that is all over the board and laden with oldies. The capable Easy Money band features a rare horn section in addition to the traditional pedal steel and fiddle. Ax men Mica Roberts and Carl Murr showcased their blistering runs early on with a scorching version of “Whiskey Girl."
From there, Mr. Keith engineered a conflicted yet effective block of songs that showcased rockers unabashedly featuring themes of drinking, sex and fighting countered with ballads you could cuddle to.
Mr. Keith usually pens all of his material and is a very capable songwriter. Though an obvious crowd favorite, he performed the No. 1 clichéd party anthem “Red Solo Cup“ between two inflatables and it came off as silly.
Redemption came in the form of older classics when he ditched three covers from the setlist in favor of a few massive hits from the '90s. The tender “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This” and the equally deep “Who’s That Man” provided a welcome relief from the scorching Les Paul/Carvin shred fest put on by Mr. Roberts and Mr. Murr.
His devotion to the military and civil servants is backed up by his relentless USO touring and financial support to their causes. Nonetheless, his powerful signature, “Courtesy Of The Red, White and Blue” is almost comically over the top with the chorus, “We’ll put a boot in you’re ass, it’s the American way.”
His love of America is matched only by his disdain of the current bro country movement. The latter is most appropriate as Mr. Keith is about as close as you can get to traditional country these days.
Mr. Keith’s daughter Krystal in the pre-opener slot was adequate but uninspiring. Colt Ford followed with a wildly well received block of his signature hard-charging rock/rap tunes that immediately bring Kid Rock to mind.
Michael Rampa is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer. First Published August 10, 2014 12:00 AM