Monday, January 23, 2012

Concert Review: Robert Earl Keen, The Deep Dark Woods -- January 22, 2012, Royale Nightclub, Boston, Massachusetts

A true pioneer of the Red Dirt music scene brought his winter tour to the Northeast this past weekend, with stops in New York City and Boston.  I had the great fortune to attend the Boston show last night at the Royale Nightclub just a short walk from Boston Common.  The Royale is a beautiful club with excellent acoutics, I highly recommend catching a show there when the opportunity presents itself. 

Robert Earl Keen has been travelling the roads of America for decades and is one of the forefathers of Texas Red Dirt music.  On the road to support his latest release "Ready for Confetti", Robert Earl Keen delivered the stellar performance that you would expect from the veteran singer-songwriter.  Opening with the catchy "Whodoo Man", it was clear Robert Earl came to Boston to have a party with the hundreds in attendance.  And the audience obliged, chanting the familiar "REK! REK!" refrain that is common at Keen's shows.  Moving comfortably from the blues-tinged opening number to the soulful, laidback "Feelin' Good Again", to the humourous "Merry Christmas From The Family", Robert Earl showed why he has been, and continues to be, a relevant factor in music for well over 30 years. 

One of my favorite performances of the evening was the title track of Robert Earl's previous album, "The Rose Hotel."   I always appreciate when artists allow their backup band to shine on their own for an extended run on a song, and such was the case with "The Rose Hotel" as well as a great tune I was not familiar with, "Corpus Christ Bay."  Performances such as these are the reason that I've been tuned in to the Red Dirt music scene.  Just pure, rockin' soul and country that you can rarely hear anywhere other than at a live show on a Sunday night in Boston, or any day of the week in Texas. 

Bringing the show to it's much anticipated peak, Robert Earl and the boys did another extended take on what may be his best known tune "The Road Goes on Forever", which has been covered many times over, perhaps best by Billy Joe Shaver.  Like many of us out there, Robert Earl commented on the current state of mainstream country music with "This Old Porch", a tune co-written with fellow Texas singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett.  Robert Earl closed off his excellent set with "Comin' Home to You", and encored with "Shades of Amarillo."   After hearing much about Robert Earl Keen over the years, it was great to finally catch one of his shows.  It's not hard to see why he is regarded as a legend in Texas and the influece he has had on that music scene.  Without Robert Earl, it's hard to imagine groups like Cross Canadian Ragweed, Reckless Kelly or No Justice come to being ... or at the very least, having the sound that they have.  He is a true original and should gain your attention when playing in your town.  I promise you will find many, hardcore Robert Earl Keen fans at the show.

Speaking of true originals, opening act The Deep Dark Woods are an excellent band based out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada that is beginning to make their rounds in the United States.  One might ask why a Texas legend would bring a fairly new Canadian band out on the road with him as the show opener.  One would get their answer when they see and hear The Deep Dark Woods.  This is my second opportunity to catch a performance of The Deep Dark Woods, but my first time catching a more fulsome performance.  I attended their showcase segment at the Americana Music Conference and Festival in Nashville last October where they were the rave of the week.  With a voice that sounds much older than the gentleman possessing that voice, lead vocalist Ryan Boldt and the band introduced themselves to the Boston audience.  I can assure you, the Boston audience will not forget The Deep Dark Woods. 

Serving as the opener for Keen is a great opportunity for this young group from Canada.  Touring to support their US debut album, The Place I Left Behind, the boys opened up with the initial track on the album, "Westside Street."  It was great to watch the crowd, many of whom I'm sure had not heard of The Deep Dark Woods before, turn toward the stage eyes wide and ears open and move closer to get a glimpse of the band they were hearing for the first time.  With each passing tune, the cheering and applause got louder.  The tight performances and songwriting on such tunes as "The Banks of the Leopold Canal" and "Back Alley Blues" quite clearly won a whole room full of fans, many of whom walked immediately to the concession table to find their copy of The Place I Left Behind and other earlier works of the band. 

The Deep Dark Woods have a very unique sound that served as the perfect compliment to Robert Earl Keen's set.  I had the great fortune to meet with the guys for a few minutes as I was leaving the club and I'm proud to say they are very pleasant, humble and friendly.  True Canadian boys, indeed.  The Deep Dark Woods are:  Ryan Boldt on vocals and guitar; Burke Barlow on acoustic, electric and steel guitar; Geoff Hilhorst on keys; Chris Mason on vocals and bass; and Lucas Goetz on vocals, percussion and pedal steel.  I list them by name here today because I believe this is the beginning for The Deep Dark Woods and you should get to know them.  The next time this group comes to Boston, it will be as well-deserved headliners.

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