Lyle Lovett has done this many times: Taken a seat, strapped on a guitar and traded songs with one or several fellow songwriters.
In Kansas City alone he has done it with titans Guy Clark, Joe Ely and John Hiatt.
For two and a half hours Thursday night at the Uptown Theater, Lovett played another long round of musical Hacky-Sack with one of his oldest and dearest friends, Robert Earl Keen, a fellow Texan and songwriter whose catalog of classic Texas troubadour songs nearly matches Lovett’s.
The format was austere and true.
Keen and Lovett strummed one of the two acoustic guitars each brought on stage and traded stories and songs back and forth.
Keen led off with “Gringo Honeymoon,” a song about a trip with his wife that Keen admitted wasn’t really their honeymoon. He also dispensed this libidinous wisdom: “You’d be surprised what a donkey ride and tequila will do to a woman.”
Lovett shot back: “Most of my songs start after that moment,” and then sang “What You Do,” a song with lines like: “You tell me you love me / To put off my blues / But what do you do / When it quits being new?”
And so it went.
Keen talked about growing up in Kerrville, Texas, home of Robert Earl Keen Beer and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. After Johnny Football’s name drew a smattering of boos, Keen cracked a joke about the crowd missing Manziel’s appearance on “ESPN Rehab.”
One of the better moments came early, when the two traded songs about family.
Lovett first told a story about family reunions and his mother and her 8 mm camera and how all she captured were images of everyone’s hands — palms outward, blocking their faces. His song was nostalgic and sentimental, recalling the deaths of those who were absent but appreciating those still there: “We’re all gonna be here forever / So, Mama, don’t make such a stir / Just put down that camera / And come on and join up / The last of the family reserve.”
Keen then countered with “Merry Christmas From the Family,” a hilarious remembrance of a holiday hootenanny that included a trip to a convenience store: “Send somebody to the Stop ’N Go / We need some celery and a can of fake snow / A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites / A box of tampons and some Salem Lights.”
The back and forth accentuated the style differences in each.
Lovett is more refined, vocally, lyrically and on the guitar.
Keen comes off as more deep-rooted Texan, more unfiltered and blunt. He was the only one onstage wearing a cowboy hat and the only one with stories like the one he told about his older brother getting apprehended by police in Corpus Christi while drunk and naked.
The crowd of more than 1,500 expressed plenty of love for both performers.
Keen received loud ovations as he started several songs, including “Christmas,” “Feelin’ Good Again” and “Mariano,” about a migrant worker —a song with themes deeply relevant to this year’s election.
Lovett offered some of his most beloved and endearing songs, like “Flyswatter Icewater Blues,” a ballad about a couple taking stock in their love for each other as they head out to start their day; the jazzy-folk ballad “Nobody Knows Me”; “This Old Porch,” which he co-wrote with Keen; and “If I Had a Boat,” which followed a sincere testimonial to his parents who, Lovett said, never wavered in their support of his pursuit of a music career.
The end of the show included two valedictions: “I’m Comin’ Home” from Keen, a song about redemption and repair; and “Church” from Lovett, a song about renewal, spiritually and nutritionally.
Each song emphasized the difference in each songwriter’s style as much as they reinforced the long, deep and indelible friendship between the two.
Robert Earl Keen: Gringo Honeymoon; Wireless in Heaven; Merry Christmas From the Family; Municipal Airport; If I Were King of This Crazy World; Feelin’ Good Again; East Virginia Blues; No Kinda Dancer; Somethin’ I Do; Mariano; Shades of Gray; I’m Comin’ Home; Corpus Christi Bay.
Lyle Lovett: What You Do; Family Reserve; Waltzing Fool; Penguins; Flyswatter Icewater Blues; Record Lady; Give Back My Heart; Nobody Knows Me; This Old Porch; If I Had a Boat; Rollin’ By; Church.