09/15/2008  Chicago Tribune writer Allison Bonaguro explains the "Rhythm and Range" of Keith Anderson's show at Joe's

Three songs into his set on Friday night, Keith Anderson sang that his six-string was his ticket out. And from the looks of things, it worked.

Anderson has been playing that goodbye-small-town song ("Podunk") on his Gibson for so long that it shows. Literally. At his sold-out show at Joe's Bar, you could see the weathered spots on that guitar where he has worn the paint off from strumming his way through a long line of honky-tonks. They are proof that while he's known for his robust voice and tender songwriting, Anderson has rhythm guitar chops too.

Not that the band needed any more guitars. Evaston native Bob Hatter backed Anderson with plenty of solid playing, along with two more guitars, drums and keyboards. It was a big band for the small stage, but the elbow-to-elbow crowd showed their country lovin' even when the instrumental solos dragged on.

Maybe that was because these were hard-core Anderson fans who had waited a good, long time to see him. This show was rescheduled from a cancellation in March.

"I had to cancel a few months ago cause of some stuff," he explained after "I Still Miss You." The passionate ballad of trying desperately to let go, as Anderson had to do when his mother passed away this summer, had him close to tears.

That was the only bummer of the night, though. The rest of the 14-song set revved up the unrestrained, unabashed vibe that comes with any Anderson show. Even the brand-new single "Somebody Needs a Hug" was well-received, as were other sure things off his latest album "C'MON!," such as the rowdy title track and his take on Foster & Lloyd's "Crazy Over You."

Because that was Anderson's only real cover tune, he had more time for his own oldies. "If you drink like I drink and eat like I eat, we've gotta have a few XXLs in the house," Anderson said as he segued into his 2005 biggie "XXL."

While such hard rockers are one of Anderson's signatures, the strength of his vocals comes through better on his ballads. On "Break My Heart," he turned the sultry up to give the song the swagger it needed. Ending the show with "Pickin' Wildflowers" was a good call too. It revealed Anderson's range along with a flirty charm that worked like a magnet.

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune <http://www.chicagotribune.com/>