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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Toby Keith asserts his brute strength

Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, Cal., Nov. 15, 2003

By Dan MacIntosh

ANAHEIM, CA - A video clip of Toby Keith joining in on a professional wrestling match was shown over the arena's big screens just prior to the singer taking the stage, and as it turns out, Keith and the dubious wrestling profession have a lot in common. Pro wrestlers are closer to cartoon characters than they are to actual human beings, and much the same can be said of Keith.

In concert, he comes off like a stone-faced bully who is trying to assert his brute strength, instead of being an entertaining host.

Otis Redding once sang, "Try A Little Tenderness," and one wishes Keith would be open to such sound advice.

But instead, he feels compelled to play the tough guy. Songs like "Country Comes to Town" and "Should've Been a Cowboy" go a long way in summing up his roughneck persona. And hits such as "How Do You like Me Now?" and "Let's Talk about Me" are reminders that it's all about Toby Keith, and little else. The trouble is, unlike "Rocky," Keith is just not the kind of fighting underdog that will ever steal your heart.

Keith would be a more consummate performer if he had a sense of humor or a vulnerable side. And while he sings quite a few "funny" songs, he's not really a funny guy.

During his mid-set "Bus Songs" section, which was a moment for Keith and his band buddy Scotty Emerick to perform a few acoustic songs together, he played "Weed with Willie," a dopey drug reference filled song about being in Willie Nelson's smoky tour bus. The song is as predictable as a Cheech & Chong movie, and this subject has already been covered (and better). Just give Bruce Robinson's "What Would Willie Do" a listen and a laugh. And about as close as Keith got to anything vulnerable, was with the thoughtful "The List." The rest of this show was filled with Keith's bludgeoning wrecking ball of hits.

Keith was preceded by a criminally short set from Blake Shelton. And Shelton must have felt just like he was in a chain gang after three of his roadies tied a fake ball and chain to his leg. They also carried out placards that read, "Blake's Getting' Married Monday."

Although his stage time was brief, he made the best of it by opening with his single, "Playboys of the Southwestern World," then performing the hits "Baby" and "Ol' Red" before closing with the old Conway Twitty hit, "Tight Fittin' Jeans."

Scotty Emerick opened this show with an acoustic set, which almost didn't happen at all. The poor guy's acoustic guitar wasn't amplified for the first five minutes of his appearance, which left him standing there looking nervous and worried. But by the time he got to "I Can't Take You Anywhere," he was able to end on a high note.

Faithful Toby Keith fans seemed to be having a grand time singing along with the artist's hits tonight, but one doubts he made any new friends with this performance. One respects his success, but it's awfully hard to really like him.