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MUSIC REVIEW

Keith trucks along despite some rough patches

By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / September 19, 2011

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MANSFIELD - For as much attention as Toby Keith gets for his USA-cheerleading anthems like “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)’’ and “American Soldier,’’ it’s his songs of hard drinkin’ and even harder lovin’ that made his name in country music. But both derive from largely the same place, an egotistical sense of invulnerability leading him into trouble (where his charisma will, hopefully, get him out). Closing out the Comcast Center’s summer season on Saturday, he began to show some cracks.

Not by design, of course. It takes a confident man to barrage his audience with commercials for his favorite brand of truck during his songs, to say nothing of telling the women he’s after in multiple numbers to shut up while still expecting them to go home with him.

But there were times, like in the leering “Who’s Your Daddy?’’ when Keith didn’t seem to revel in being a heel the way he usually does. His voice also fell apart alarmingly often, with rank notes galore in “As Good as I Once Was’’ and “How Do You Like Me Now?’’ where he visibly fiddled with his earpiece. During “I Wanna Talk About Me,’’ he sounded winded during the chatty verses when he wasn’t struggling to hit the notes in the chorus.

The show itself seemed designed to blow past such problems. His 11-piece band was all stun and no subtlety on “Whiskey Girl,’’ the big, chesty “American Ride’’ and the blustery shuffle of “Get Drunk and Be Somebody.’’ But on the piano-only weeper “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine on You’’ and two songs with guitarist Scotty Emerick - “Ballad of Balad’’ and “Weed With Willie’’ - that were basically cowboy ballads about unconventional topics, Keith showed that he has a voice, when he has a voice. More often, though, he was something not as much fun: a jerk struggling to keep up with his reputation.

With a subdued pompadour, rockabilly snake-legs and a Gin Blossoms voice, J.T. Hodges opened with a brief set of solid rootsy rock with only the barest hint of Nashville purity.

By contrast, there was no mistaking Eric Church for anything but country, even with a pronounced metal influence that seemed borrowed, along with his relaxed cockiness, from Kid Rock. His backdrop featured a skull logo, “Lotta Boot Left to Fill’’ began with a downtuned, grinding guitar and thudding drums, and the outro of “Smoke a Little Smoke’’ ended his hourlong set with Black Sabbath riffing. But songs about small towns and Jack Daniels, chicken-pickin’ banjos, and Church’s nasal twang left no doubt where he was coming from.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.

TOBY KEITH

With Eric Church and J.T. Hodges

At: Comcast Center, Mansfield, Saturday