The stage at Bass Hall was nearly barren, except for two chairs and a small coffee table. Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen were playing without a backing band. It was just two guys, two acoustic guitars and a lot of memories; two men stripped down to the thing that got them started.
The show had been sold out for quite some time as the chance to see these two former Aggies swapping stories and songs, something the pair did on Keen's front porch on Church Street back in their college days, was too tempting for folks to pass up.
Judging by the "whoops" coming from the crowd any time either Lovett or Keen mentioned A&M, it was clear that the aggie faithful were out in force. In fact, the performers talked so much about their time in College Station. In fact, if not for their age, the way Lovett and Keen carried on, it was like they were still in college. When Keen sang "I'm Coming Home," it was as if he was talking about Aggieland, circa 1978.
Lovett and Keen took turns at the microphone with each impressing with their sense of humor and ability to present the songs in such a stark, barebones manner. Keen's "Feelin' Good Again" and Lovett's "If I Had a Boat" coming off particularly well in this context. Strangely, Keen chose not to play one of his signature tunes, "The Road Goes On Forever," but no one seemed to mind.
The oddest moments of the night were provided by Lovett, as he employed a pair of ballet dancers during "The Waltzing Fool" and "She's No Lady, She's My Wife." Lovett explained that the dancers were from the Texas Ballet Theater and that he was good friends with the artistic director there.
Besides the dancers, it was only Lovett and Keen holding count in the pristine venue. Yet even in the immaculate confines of Bass Performance Hall, Lovett and Keen made the place feel like an intimate house party.
In the end, it was a remarkable night of picking and grinning. The affinity Lovett and Keen have for one another is obvious, as is the respect each one has for the other's songwriting ability.
Even though they have a shared musical heritage, Lovett and Keen have very different approaches. Although he certainly can be funny, Lovett's songs often use humor to hide a caustic and sometimes bitter edge. Keen has always been more straightforward. Keen's the guy you want to have a beer with while you might be lucky if Lovett would let you clean his martini glass. But on this night, they were brothers in arms, pals who found a common emotional ground in the striped down beauty of songs written on a front porch.