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Right as rain

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Toby Keith with Ted Nugent Alltel Arena Feb. 11 Country headliner Toby Keith paired with classic rock guitar-maniac Ted Nugent as the warm-up act was an interesting concert offering, to say the least. The one common denominator for “the Nuge” and Keith is their pro-right-wing beliefs and pro-gun advocacy. We felt out of place entering Alltel Arena last Friday night without a straw cowboy hat, as it was immediately obvious most of the 8,986 fans in attendance had come for Toby Keith. Nugent, the “Motor City Madman,” took the stage wearing a Confederate flag shirt. He proved his reputation as one of the best guitar players in rock music is still deserved, though, as he blasted the arena with several hits during his 45-minute set. Nugent was able to relate to the crowd with his pro-NRA and hunting views. The highlight of the show, however, was when Nugent worked the crowd into a raucous frenzy by repeatedly asking if they wanted to hear some country and Western. Once he had the fans on their feet cheering, Ted paused for a few seconds, looked directly into the crowd, and hollered “fat chance!” as he made the guitar scream with “Stranglehold,” followed up by “Cat Scratch Fever.” It seemed like a quarter of the crowd arrived in the 45 minutes between acts. Keith kicked off his part with a video of him in a Ford truck talking to an old English bulldog. The sound became more intense as the video showed Keith driving up to a bar but unable to enter the front door. Keith’s bulldog walked up with a chain to help Keith pull the door down with his Ford truck. As the building front fell, the curtain drew up and revealed Keith and his band, jumping into the song “Stays in Mexico.” As the crowd settled into the show, the video screen showed clips from old cowboy movies while Keith bellowed into the microphone one of his classic hits, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” followed by “Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.” Keith then gave the band a mid-set break while he and another musician played some of his favorite “bus” songs, written on long rides between performances and not meant for commercial airplay. Fans, though, have heard the songs and have come to love them, such as “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willy Again” and “Taliban.” Keith’s “Whiskey for My Men, Beer for My Horses” brought the house down. He made three curtain calls and concluded the night talking about his friendship with Nugent, the Iraq war and his pro-American stance. No wonder Keith and Nugent belonged on the same stage together. Kenny Loggins Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s ‘POPS LIVE’ Robinson Center Music Hall Feb. 12 Loggins commands Though many Arkansas Symphony Orchestra season ticket holders thought they were going to the symphony, they ended up at a rock concert. Well, that’s not completely accurate. Conductor David Itkin and the ASO opened the “Pops, Live!” show featuring Kenny Loggins with a lovely rendition of “America the Beautiful,” went boldly on with a “Star Trek” medley, and concluded with selections from the musical "Mame." This portion of the concert lasted only half an hour, allowing plenty of time for an ample set from ’70s folk rocker-turned ’80s hit maker Loggins. His four piece pop-rock band started the show as Loggins made his entrance through the audience while singing “If You Believe.” The ASO sat idle during the opening number, but added sweetness to the slick versions of “Heart to Heart” and “This Is It” that followed. Not content to play a 30-year-old parade of hits, Loggins was quick to incorporate less familiar and freshly written music into his performance. Five songs into the set, the band really caught its stride as Loggins announced that it was “time for some serious reminiscing.” Leading the way on acoustic guitar, Loggins played a slowed down and bluesy version of “Your Mama Don’t Dance (And Your Daddy Don’t Rock and Roll).” The song soon morphed into a medley that led from “Old Time Rock & Roll” to “Chain of Fools” and “Young Blood,” before ending with an unlikely snippet of “Kiss” by Prince. It should be noted that Loggins possesses an impressive vocal range that served him well all evening, even when evoking The Purple One. The Symphony was either idle or irrelevant for much of the evening, as Loggins’ band — drums, electric bass, electric guitar and keyboards — played as the ASO sat and watched. At other times the dynamics were such that the ASO was simply overpowered with volume. When introducing “Live and Licking,” the tune co-written with Clint Black that Loggins called his “theme song for the night,” he made a cheeky comment to the orchestra to “feel free to smile” before wondering aloud “if they’re like this at home.” This seemed a bit of a low blow to the captive audience sharing the stage, and one wonders if Loggins would have preferred if the string section talked amongst themselves while the brass players struck up a card game and the woodwinds played craps. Given the opportunity to shine, however, the symphonic accompaniment gave a depth and lushness to the music, most notably on “Now and Then” and the environmentalist anthem “Conviction of the Heart.” Two odes to parenting and childhood, “Return To Pooh Corner” and “Danny’s Song,” got the sing-along treatment from a willing audience. The irony meter redlined as the well-dressed, middle-aged bourgeoisie sang the “even though we ain’t got money” line from “Danny’s Song” in unison, but the sentimental sweetness of both songs made for the high point of the evening. The concert ended predictably with a barrage of Top 40 hits: a funky version of “Caddyshack” theme “I’m Alright” that leaned heavily on the Meter’s “Hey Pocky Way,” and a full-bore, radio-ready pairing of “Danger Zone” and “Footloose.” All in all, Loggins delivered a well-paced show that varied from soft, heartfelt laments to high-octane dance music, even if sometimes the Symphony just had the best seats in the house. — By Tim Jones

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