MANSFIELD - The mock action-movie preview and truck sponsorship tie-in that flashed across the video screens before Toby Keith blasted onto the stage amid explosions of pyro and a hail of commemorative tickets said a lot about how the singer's fans see him, and how he sees himself: as both invincible superhero and unrepentant blue-collar redneck.
The advertisement was a triumph of product placement - Keith being one of the two pieces of merchandise being peddled - although the 46-year-old country superstar needed no help when it came to self-promotion. "I Wanna Talk About Me," one of the nearly two dozen songs Keith delivered during a boisterous two-hour set at the Tweeter Center Saturday, was redundant.
Celebrating himself is what the self-described "Big Dog Daddy" (both the title of his latest album and the old-fashioned, Chuck Berry-style rocker he opened with) did most often - except, that is, hawking his love it-or-leave-it brand of patriotism for what he dubbed "Team USA."
Nevertheless, when Keith sang "American Soldier," an affecting ballad honoring dedication to duty and the cost of human sacrifice, and then invited several troops on stage, it was a poignant moment. So was "Love Me If You Can," a surprisingly tender number that served as a response to the controversy that's followed Keith in the wake of his post-9/11 anthem (which closed the show), "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)."
"Call me wrong, call me right," Keith sang in his burnished baritone, his 10-piece backing band playing softly behind him. "You sure know where I stand . . . Hate me if you want to, love me if you can."
Much of the evening was given over to lighter fare about Keith's other favorite topics: Plentiful booze and willing women ("I Love This Bar"; "Whiskey Girl"); cowboy fantasies ("Should've Been a Cowboy"); and a cautionary tale about the perils of getting high with "the coolest 73-year-old hippie on the planet, Willie Nelson" ("Weed With Willie"). "Get Drunk and Be Somebody" was affable enough, but it was hardly original: Has Keith forgotten that fellow Oklahoma native Merle Haggard wrote a tune called "Drink Up and Be Somebody" decades ago?
Keith and female backup singer Mica Roberts also dipped into a zesty duet cover of Tom Petty's "A Thing About You," but she later punched her partner on the shoulder for "Runnin' Block," a puerile tune that ridicules an overweight blind date. "Ladies, if you're offended, plug your ears," Keith playfully warned beforehand. "Or you might want to try eating a salad tomorrow."
Twenty-three-year-old Texas singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert, second on the bill, served up a potent concoction of sassy attitude, brassy voice, and a fistful of songs about guns, girls, and revenge. With a piercing twang that recalled Dolly Parton and at least one song, "Famous in a Small Town," worthy of that comparison - or at least John Mellencamp - Lambert demonstrated why her star is on the rise.
Openers Flynnville Train, an Indiana quintet signed to Keith's Show Dog label, offered a short set of sturdy but standard-issue Marshall Tucker Band-style Southern rock.