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Toby Keith leads the party

San Manuel Amphitheater, Devore, Cal., August 10, 2012

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Devore, CA - Toby Keith filmed the video for his latest single, I Like Girls That Drink Beer, at this latest Southern California concert stop, and the burly singer proved his words were not merely song lyrics by filling his set list with drinking song after driving song.

The title to Keith's latest album, "Clancy's Tavern," was incorporated into his stage's décor, with what amounted to a jukebox/wet bar backdrop. This jukebox's top section was transformed into a video screen that showed promotional video clips throughout the evening. More often than not, these videos supported songs about adult beverages.

Some songs were silly, such as Red Solo Cup, with its animated dancing cups, while others took on a more somber tone, as with Whiskey Girl. With so many alcohol-related songs in his show, it must have been difficult for AA members to resist having a sip; especially with all the scantily clad women in the crowd waving homemade posters with beer-related slogans, in hopes of getting on camera.

One factor separating Keith from most other country stars is the horn section in his band. There were moments during his show when his touring group sounded like New Orleans, and other times when they came off like Memphis, simply because of the collective's instrumental makeup. This gave Keith the kind of flexibility you don't often find with live country music. Keith also used his brass players visually to sing and dance along with him during key sections.

Keith played the jovial party host this evening. He hit the stage equipped with a red solo cup holder and (of course) a red solo cup, which he kept filled with his personal Wilt Shot liquor brand. He also used his cup to toast various law enforcement forces and military services, before going into the video and audio-accompanied Willie Nelson duet of Beer For My Horses. Willie's name came up again with I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again, but this was not a duet. Keith sang it, while animated dancing joints appeared on the video screen.

If you came to party, it was hard to argue with Keith's performance approach. He knows full well how many country music fans like to drink, and he gave 'em what they wanted. He also realizes his fans come to have a good time, so except for his sloganeering patriotic songs, Keith kept the mood light. From the looks of it, folks were having a great time. There is also quite a variety of ages represented in his audience, from the car full of young girls doing Jell-O shots in the parking lot, to the grey-haired couples enjoying a date night out.

Brantley Gilbert's opening slot was a little disappointing, in that he did pretty much the same set recently during Willie Nelson's Country Throwdown. Nevertheless, this time songs like Country Must Be Country Wide and You Don't Know Her Like I Do were sung as former number one songs, with an enthusiastic audience singing along. Gilbert was flanked by two electric guitarists that took turns playing rocking solos.

Although not listed on the bill, Thomas Rhett kicked off the show with a strong set of his own songs. One in particular, Beer with Jesus was much better than its hokey title might lead you to believe.

This concert produced few significant musical memories because while some drink to remember, as the old Eagles song suggests, some drink to forget. This was a night of escaping into a red solo cup. Toby Keith led the way, and his beer-drinking girls gladly followed. Let's just hope there also a few designated drivers in the crowd.