LIVE: Lyle Lovett & Robert Earl Keen @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 9/29/16

Review by Richard Brody

Shortly after Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen began their stellar concert, Lyle wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: “We’re real friends, not fake show business friends.”

And for the next two-plus hours these longtime buddies brought us into their lives taking turns singing their songs and telling stories about their shared past that centered on their time as students at Texas A&M in the late ’70s. How strong their bond is was evident early in the evening when Lyle sang one his humorous songs about failed romance, “Record Lady,” that begins with:

“Robert Earl this friend of mine
You know he’s always looking after my best interest…”

Robert Earl is trying to get Lyle back on his romantic feet by wooing the record lady and tells Lyle “She’s got the cutest little cartridge that you’ve ever seen.” As the song ends with Lyle still dreaming about this romantic miss, Robert Earl quipped, “My songs aren’t cool like that. Mine are ass-kickin’ cool.” At which point he launched into “Goin’ Down in Style” about a son stealing his father’s Cadillac, getting arrested, jumping bail and heading for the border.

That stolen Cadillac prompted a story about the two of them getting stopped by the police for speeding. Lyle was convinced that he had done nothing wrong and demanded a trial rather than pay the $18 fine. And with the help of Robert’s attorney mother, they were acquitted.

At the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, the songs and stories just kept on coming from these prolific songwriters and under-rated guitar players. Lyle performed numerous fan favorites that included “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind,” “Give Me Back My Heart,” “San Antonio Girl” and “Creeps Like Me,” while Robert did the same with “Dreadful Selfish Crime,” “Gringo Honeymoon,” “Love’s a Word I Never Throw Around” and “Wild Wind.”

Two of the evening’s highlights were Lyle’s “If I Had a Boat” and Robert Earl’s “Merry Xmas from the Family”. The former is a song with many possible meanings, but the boat and a comment that Lyle made long after he had written the song was that it was dedicated to his parents for understanding his need to sail out to sea far from a land-locked life. Robert Earl’s song is about a family gathering that teeters on self-destruction but ultimately ends with the family saying “cheese.”

They could have easily spent the evening playing nothing but their own songs, but they also paid their respects to some of their fellow songwriters with renditions of Jerrod Nieman’s “The Buckin’ Song,” and Vince Bell’s beautiful song about friendship, “Sun & Moon & Stars.” There were also stories about two of their mentors, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.

When you were on the road with Townes, it was not surprising to see him try to rent a car with his library card, and as fun as he could be, he also was able to almost make himself physically disappear when you were standing next to him if he wasn’t in the mood. As both put it, “Guy was imposing because of his size and directness.” Lyle once asked him what he thought about a song he had sung – Guy’s response was “Too many f***in’ words” – at which point we got to hear Lyle sing that song, Clark’s “Step Inside This House.”

But if either of them were asked to name a song that best represents their 40-year friendship it would undoubtedly be “The Front Porch Song”/”This Old Porch.” “We used to sit on this old porch on Church Street, play bluegrass and folk music, and talk about someday becoming big songwriters.”

Robert wrote several verses with the porch representing the local way of life that he feared was disappearing, but he realized that the song wasn’t finished, and showed it to Lyle who thought that the song was so personal that it needed Robert as a character. Lyle added verses that captured Robert’s sentiment and the role that the porch played for both of them in the pursuit of their dream.

“This old porch is just a long time
Of waiting and forgetting
And remembering the coming back
And not crying about the leaving
And remembering the falling down
And the laughter of the curse of luck
From all those sons of bitches
Who said we’d never get back up…”

It was like an evening that you spend with some old friends that you don’t get to see as often as you’d like – you just don’t want it to end. And being good ole Texas boys Lyle and Robert made their exit with the traditional “Texas River Song.”

Don’t Cry a Tear
Feelin’ Good Again
She’s Already Made Up Her Mind
Dreadful Selfish Crime
Record Lady
No Kinda Dancer
Give Me Back My Heart
Goin’ Down in Style
Election Day
Wild Wind
San Antonio Girl
Front Porch Song
Gringo Honeymoon
Step Inside this House
Love’s a Word I Never Throw Around
Creeps Like Me
Merry Xmas from the Family
If I Had a Boat
The Buckin’ Song
Rolling By
I’m Comin’ Home
Sun and Moon and Stars
Texas River Song

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