Miranda Lambert at Xcel Energy Center, 10/11/13
Photo by Tony Nelson
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Friday, October 11, 2013
Miranda Lambert excels at what Kool Moe Dee used to call "sticking to themes," and the video intro she's whipped up for her current tour lays those themes out with a stylish lack of ambiguity. First, a clip of Lisa Davis singing "Oh you can't trust a man/ Cause a man will lie/ But a gun stays beside you/ Till the day you die," from the 1957 cowgirl revenge B-Western The Dalton Girls. Then a montage of women, mostly Hollywood gunslingers (including Betty Boop and Joan Crawford) and country singers (Patsy, Dolly, Reba), set to Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)." Lambert sings about women, she sings about guns, she sings about women with guns.
Fortunately, there are so many different kinds of women. (And so many different kinds of guns.) Lambert's opening song, "Fastest Girl in Town," introduced us to one kind of gal: a sexy outlaw who invites some dim, serviceable slice of beefcake along for a whiskey-fueled high-speed joyride, then hooks up with the trooper who pulls them over and locks up her studly patsy. But not all Lambert's characters are nihilist hellions, and even her rebels cope with plenty of causes.
Photos by Tony Nelson
The women Lambert sang about, sang as, and sang for Friday night at the Xcel were more likely to justify, apologize for, or seek to understand their rough edges. Their anthem is Lambert's "Heart Like Mine," in which the singer accepts her faults rather than flaunting them, reassuring herself that Jesus, wine-drinking pal of the imperfect that he was, would totally have kicked it with her, tattoos and the occasional cigarette notwithstanding.
A third-place finisher on Nashville Star a decade ago, Lambert is now country music's biggest female hitmaker who isn't named Carrie. (Just so long as we agree that the one named Taylor isn't really country anymore now, is she?) Lambert and husband Blake Shelton preside over Nashville as a far friskier first couple than Tim McGraw and Faith Hill ever were, and she's affiliated with a slew of funny, feisty, and (unforgivably) far less commercially successful women singer and songwriters -- Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe, her own side-project the Pistol Annies -- who are in but not wholly of Nashville, out to crash the virtual stag party that is Today's Country.
Though Lambert made her name as a songwriter, her albums have also cherry-picked songs from the likes of Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Fred Eaglesmith, and Allison Moorer, and her compositional taste can seem more inclined to rootsy Americana than Music Row, though her commitment to a solid backbeat and her hunger for a broad audience protect her from lapsing into folkie languor. You don't often get to hear a hockey arena sing along with a John Prine song, but the folks in my section knew all the words to "That's the Way the World Goes 'Round" when Lambert performed it -- and seemed to get more of a kick out of that song than Lambert's attempt at the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'," which never quite took flight.
Of course, the girls who run Lambert's world have other (and to be fair, broader) priorities than mine. And whatever her personal tastes, a gal's gotta wade into the goop sometimes if she wants a number one country single, even if that means "Over You," a weepie written with Shelton about his brother's death with enough lyrical blanks left unfilled to pass as a breakup ballad if your mushy heart so desires. Then again, softening her edges led Lambert to "The House That Built Me," in which a young woman's one-third-life crisis brings her back to her childhood home, where she asks its new owner to let her take a look around. (During that song, adorable photos from Lambert's childhood flashed on the screen, a manipulative concert trick that I am pathetically susceptible to -- seriously, even snapshots of the fucking Eagles as little boys would make make me tear up.)
Lambert's generally good on small towns, neither sentimental nor snidely dismissive. Her first single, from 2006, "Me and Charlie Talking," is perhaps the least bitter song imaginable about being left behind when your childhood sweetheart goes off to see the world. And "Famous in a Small Town" recognizes that gossip isn't just a mass media product. (During the latter song, images of our own small town life and celebrities flashed on the screen, starting with the not-exactly-not-famous-I-guess Rachel Leigh Cook and foolishly skipping over the Lynx before ending with the Wild logo.) Conceptually, proceeding to "Get Back" immediately after that was a mistake -- the Beatles' lyrical winks at a self-serious counterculture couldn't help but sound conservative in this context.
Photos by Tony Nelson
Lambert herself would never write a song ordering Loretta back to where she once belonged. True, her characters are wily enough to manipulate traditional expectations to their advantage. The badass charmer of "Only Prettier" hides her contempt for a prissy upscale frenemy beneath well-manicured social graces, smiling all the way through her kiss-off: "We're just like you/ Only prettier." But on "Mama's Broken Heart," Lambert trumpeted every jilted woman's God-given right to wallow in histrionic self-pity and vengeful rage no matter what the time-honored demands of ladylike propriety, and over a wild, cut-time, near-oompah beat at that. After that the singer of "Kerosene" burnt her whole damn town to the ground -- metaphorically (yeah, right.)
Lambert didn't have too much of note to say between songs, aside from a just-like-you monologue about loving fried food, wearing Spanx (whatever -- she looked great in those black leather pants and she knew it), and shopping at Target (which I guaran-damn-tee you is Wal-Mart at every other show). Occasional lags in energy made this feel like the second-to-last night of the tour that it was, and showing the full music video for several of the songs during their performance felt purposely distracting. But Lambert's got a TV actress's way of using a slight facial expression to illuminate a line -- particularly a deceitful smile that gives way to a malevolent pout -- with an exasperated droop of the arm over the microphone stand when she's beyond pissed.
She also had this to say: "My daddy taught me how to use a shotgun, and he taught me that it is never OK for a man to beat up a woman." That was the intro to "Gunpowder and Lead," where she sets up behind the door with that shotgun and a lit cigarette, waiting for a lowlife abuser to come home. Boom.
Photo by Tony Nelson
If that closer rendered any potential encore anticlimactic, what we got was acceptable: The evening's most successful nod to '60s rock -- a revved-up "Up on Cripple Creek" as Miranda 'n' Bessie's girls-night-out, steamrolling over any of the Band's laid-back subtleties -- and "White Liar," where Lambert pays back a two-timing lover simply by stepping out on him herself. Closing with such a mild revenge song almost seemed like a peace offering to the male sliver of the crowd, Lambert's way of saying that, horrible as we are, maybe not all men deserve to be shot. I'm not sure I agree with her, but I do appreciate the magnanimity of the gesture.
Personal Bias: Though Lambert's got every right to cover her classic-rock faves, she's got no need to. An up-and-comer has to rely on oldies before she's got a back catalog to mine, but Lambert could have dug deeper into her best album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- if not the title track (Lambert inhabits that role with shameless glee) then "Dry Town," a frustrated romp about how a fried transmission causes a legally enforced day of sobriety that I'd never have guessed Welch/Rawlings had in 'em. Or, if she wanted to promote her most recent album, Four the Record, there's "Fine Tune," a slow-burning orgasm that extends its lover-as-auto-mechanic metaphor way past hokey to filthy, with her new man getting under her hood and "tweaking on a little knob/ That I didn't even know was there."
The Crowd: A few date-night male-female couples, but plenty of women in groups of two or more.
Random Notebook Dump: Co-headliner Dierks Bentley professionally sexed up the crowd, offering a slideshow of when he still had the curls that made him a Nashville lust object and fielding airborne lingerie with aplomb. He closed with "Home," a nicely nuanced patriotic hit co-written with Dan Wilson -- even a godless socialist like me can sing along with "Free, nothing feels like free, though it sometimes means we don't get along/ Same, no we're not the same, but that's what makes us strong."
Fastest Girl In Town
That's the Way That the World Goes Round
Heart Like Mine
Gimme Some Lovin'
Me and Charlie Talkin'
Mama's Broken Heart
Famous in a Small Town
All Kinds of Kinds
The House That Built Me
Gunpowder and Lead
Up on Cripple Creek
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