by Julian Spivey
Robert Earl Keen, a legendary singer-songwriter in both the Texas Country and Americana communities, brought his terrific storytelling songs to Little Rock’s The Revolution Room on Saturday, April 6 for a 21-song set that had the loyal audience eating out of his hand.
Keen kicked off his set with “What I Really Mean,” from his 2005 album of the same name, and there would be no letting up as far as excellent performances for the remainder of the night.
Keen does a terrific job at peppering his show with what could be deemed his “greatest hits” throughout the set list and it starts off near the very beginning with “Feelin’ Good Again,” my personal favorite of his, and “Gringo Honeymoon” coming as the second and third songs of his show.
Keen typically makes one or two stops at The Rev Room annually and has a loyal fan-base in Little Rock and that fan-base sold out the venue on Saturday night and frequently sang every word to their favorites throughout the night.
Among the highlights of Keen’s set were fan-favorites “Mariano,” from Keen’s sophomore album West Textures in 1989, and “Ride,” from What I Really Mean. Things really got rocking when Keen performed what he called his “Texas Trilogy” that included a great cover of Terry Allen’s “Amarillo Highway,” his fan-favorite “Corpus Christi Bay” – which was arguably got the biggest reaction from the sold out crowd – and a cover of James McMurtry’s “Levelland.”
One of the highlights of seemingly every Robert Earl Keen show is his performance of “The Front Porch Song,” one of the oldest in his repertoire and the only song he played on Saturday night from his excellent 1984 debut No Kinda Dancer (I really wish he’d play that album’s title track in concert). Keen often will tell the story about how he co-wrote this song with his good friend and longtime buddy Lyle Lovett while they were struggling college students at Texas A&M many decades ago. “The Front Porch Song” is just a great example of Keen’s perfect knack for writing story songs that are almost novelistic.
Among the other highlights in Keen’s set were “I’m Comin’ Home,” another personal favorite of mine from his discography, and the raucous, extended jam on “The Road Goes on Forever,” which really is one of the all-time great jam songs in country music history. It’s also another terrific story song.
Keen got a chance to play some slower stuff on Saturday night that really was nice to hear like “If I Were King,” “So I Can Take My Rest” and the excellent new song “Silver Spurs and Gold Tequila,” which he just debuted last month and I hope it a sign that he might have a new album coming sometime in the near future.
Another pleasant surprise from Keen’s show at The Rev Room was his reveal that he will be hosting a podcast in association with the Americana Music Association titled “Americana” that will debut on April 29 and I absolutely cannot wait to check out.
Keen ended his set with his excellent track “I Gotta Go,” from his 2011 album Ready for Confetti, an obviously fitting song to end a set.
But, The Rev Room audience certainly wasn’t going to let Keen get away from them without an encore and the legend obliged with a two-song encore of the bluegrass standard “Hot Corn, Cold Corn” and the modern Holiday classic “Merry Christmas From the Family,” which has become such a standard of his that he must play it year around. Keen and his excellent band would leave the stage but return shortly after for a second encore for a performance of “All I Have is Today.”