Radney Foster studied geology in college, and Friday night at the Birchmere the impossibly boyish 39-year-old West Texan proved he still remembers a thing or two about rock.
Backed by a noisy and fun three-piece band, Foster concealed his country leanings for much of his two-hour, 17-song set. He opened with darn-near-metallic versions of "I Got a Picture" and "God Knows When," among the louder cuts from his new album, "See What You Want to See." He also strip-mined his back catalogue for gems like "Nobody Wins," "A Fine Line" and even "Texas in 1880" (which dates back to his days with Foster & Lloyd), all the while prompting free-range guitarist Joe Pisapio, who may well be Foster's first band mate to play through a Marshall amp, to bury the tunes' original twang with boisterousness and feedback.
To assure fans that he's also learned a thing or two about dynamics, Foster dismissed the band and took a brief solo turn. Though armed with just an acoustic Gibson guitar, he owned the crowd during his quiet reading of "Easier Said Than Done," a rare cheatin' song in which the singer is the cheater.
He kept everybody's attention with "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)," a lullaby he wrote several years ago after his ex-wife remarried and--despite Foster's highly publicized legal and even legislative efforts to stop her--moved with their son to France. His record label, aware of the monstrous success of the similarly over-personal "Butterfly Kisses," persuaded him to put the tune on the new album. So much for no depression.
By night's end, Foster had clearly returned to his roots. He sent the faithful home with "Closing Time," a tear-in-your-beer tune (from 1992's "Del Rio, TX 1959") that he introduced as "the countriest song I've ever written in my entire life."