Saturday night was warm and springy. First Avenue was full and sweaty. Margo Price gave everyone what they needed, and she was enough of a presence to make a believer out of even the most jaded rock meathead.
Colter Wall opened the show with pitch-perfect American gothic -- sometimes hushed, and creepy crawly slow, but with his rich voice Wall always provided a release. He and his band were almost a country version of Low in that regard. The appreciative crowd ate up Wall’s dark outlaw stylings, and the band fed off the energy to deliver a damn-near flawless set.
But Margo Price was not to be upstaged. Her band took the stage and kicked out a rollicking instrumental jam to beckon leader and truly Big Deal out on stage. Price appeared in a red jumpsuit to sing “About to Find Out” (like most of the night’s set, from 2016’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter) in grand fashion.
Price’s crystalline voice sliced through the combative intro to “Tennessee Song,” and people pretty much went bananas. Her band was amazing, and her effortless vocals waltzed all over your heartstrings.
“We have a drinking song here. It’s Saturday night, right?” Price asked, and there was definitely drinking happening. The tearjerker “Since You Put Me Down” certainly went down easier with a beer.
Price and band took us through a couple of new songs before bringing it all back home with a promised Dylan song, “Hazel.”
“First time I’ve sang that in front of a crowd,” she told us.
Recently, Price was able to meet her hero, Loretta Lynn, and on Saturday night we got to hear Price’s version of Loretta’s “Everybody Wants to go to Heaven.” It was Price on acoustic guitar, accompanied only by an accordion, and it was a damn beauty.
It was the final night of this leg of Price’s tour. “So nice to end it here,” Price remarked about First Avenue. “Such a special place.”
There seemed to be a collective epiphany happening throughout the show. The music, the voice, the mood… it was your past, your earliest musical memories. But it was your future, too – your kids’ earliest musical memories. Real salt of the earth, American Songbook stuff.
It was clear by the time we got to Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’s opening track, “Hands of Time.” The song itself is just so perfect. As listeners we get to sway along, but the connection was more than that – in some way or another we all get to or have had to live in “Hands of Time.” You rarely get to experience a connection like that, and it felt like a promise fulfilled.
The moment wasn’t exactly broken but did ease up a bit with a reworked, slower version of the prison tumbler, “Weekender.”
“It’s hot in all this polyester,” Price quipped as they worked up to a cover of Commander Cody’s “Seeds and Stems,” which they originally learned (of course) with Willie Nelson.
Price went in the way-back machine to play the Stones-ish “Can’t Stand Still,” originally by her earlier band, Buffalo Clover. The rhythm section kept everyone’s feet shuffling, the pedal steel player was stone-cold amazing, the guitarist kept things appropriately gritty, and the keys player made his presence known constantly.
If “Hands of Time” was a moment of collective clarity and connection (and it was), the end of the main set was the rip-roaring, raucous, crowd-pleasing cherry on top.
The Nashville indictment “This Town Gets Around” whipped heads around. Price has a lot to say about her adopted hometown in the song, not all of it nice. And that led into the track that most, if not all, of the crowd wanted to hear: “Hurtin’ (on the Bottle).”
Happily, Price and band didn’t make us wait long for the encore, because it was a stunner. Their version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” built to a singalong crescendo. The slinky stomper “Four Years of Chances” fit perfectly in the set before Colter Wall came out to perform with Price and band on “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” a Rodney Crowell song Waylon Jennings made famous.
“Thank you, see you down the highway,” Price offered as a sign-off.
This was a permanent memory show, one that made you understand American music – and maybe even your fellow Americans -- a little better. Maybe seeing Margo Price in concert should be mandatory.
The Crowd: Cowboy hats were, as far as I could tell, largely non-existent.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Did you see her on ACL [Austin City Limits]? This is better.”
Random Notebook Dump: The evening had almost the quality of a musical revue, with Price’s band delivering knock-out between-song instrumentals.