"Screw politics. Y'all just fall in love with America."
That was the advice of Toby Keith, the self-proclaimed white trash hillbilly country star who played for a near-capacity crowd at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park on Saturday night.
And love America he does. Keith professed his patriotism in words and songs throughout his hit-heavy, 21-song set. Between the preaching, though, he was able to put his rich, husky voice to good use on his timeless tunes about drinkin', cheatin' and one-night stands.
But before Keith got to the music, there was a short parody film on his fictitious stint in Hollywood. Either that, or it was a five-minute Ford truck commercial. But once it was over, and the pyrotechnics revved up, Keith brought fans to their feet with "Big Bull Rider." Not everyone knew the words, because it hasn't hit country radio yet, but they danced along anyway.
Dancing is something country crowds normally do well. But this time, even the band was feeling the beat. Keith's horn section -- sax, trumpet and trombone players -- had its every move choreographed. Its sound gave the rest of the six-man band some distinctive soul, and the smooth dance moves gave Keith a touch of sophistication.
Not that he cares. Keith's wise-guy ways make him the artist you love to hate. He admitted smoking pot with Willie Nelson in "Weed with Willie," and he recommended getting naked with two women in "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight." Keith writes the songs that make the whole world blush, but people love him for it. So when he shouted, "Where's all my whiskey girls at," the crowd went wild. He may not get into much trouble in real life, but his bad-boy image onstage means the world to his fiercely loyal fans.
The show took a quieter turn when Keith brought out Lindsey Haun, who co-stars with Keith in the film "Broken Bridges." They sang the title track together, then Haun went solo on "Broken." Haun, though about half the size of Keith, brought a pleasant surprise with her nice, big voice.
After the lovefest with Haun, the yee-haw attitude returned with "Who's Your Daddy," "As Good As I Once Was," "Should've Been a Cowboy" and the rowdier live version of "I Love This Bar." Every song he sang, in fact, was his. It could be an ego thing, but Toby Keith did not do any covers. What he did do, is bring some hillbilly edge back to mainstream country.