As everyone and their mom knows, Miranda Lambert and her husband,The Voice judge and purveyor of forgettable country radio singles Blake Shelton, divorced in 2015.
It was a breakup that shocked both the country world and the E! News mainstream. While Blake went full steam ahead into a very public (and occasionally squirm-inducing) relationship with Gwen Stefani, Miranda kept relatively quiet about the split and went to work on her thoughtful, impressive double album, The Weight of These Wings. Then she hit the road.
Hitting the road is something Miranda references often in her music. Yes, she can hang with the pop-country party crowd, but when you get down to it, she’s the closest thing to a Waylon or a Willie country music has today. Many of her peers, like her ex-husband or her onetime duet partner Carrie Underwood, have given in to the dark side of mainstream country, but Miranda manages to release hits while staying true to her roots. She can record with Vince Gill’s Western swing band the Time Jumpers or cover John Prine and feel 100 percent authentic either way. Miranda brought her outlaw caravan tour, named for her song “Highway Vagabond,” to the Xcel Center on St. Patrick’s Day, and life on the road seems to suit her just fine.
Miranda opened the show with one of her trademark songs, “Kerosene,” which is about losing love and setting shit on fire -- aka the Miranda Lambert stage persona. Most of her Xcel set was in this vein: the unapologetic badass, the hard-drinking country girl, the woman who triumphs when her life goes up in flames. But both The Weight of These Wings and Miranda’s back catalog are full of material that isn’t quite so abrasive, and Miranda shines the most when she allows herself to break down and get vulnerable. The “Highway Vagabond” tour only shows off her softer side a few times, like with her classics “The House That Built Me” and “Over You,” or the first single off Wings, the delicious “Vice.”
While Lambert remains a consummate performer, the “Highway Vagabond” tour felt a little less warm and engaging than her “On Fire” tour at the Target Center did in 2012. She did preface her song “Ugly Lights” with the fact that it was inspired by her nights sitting at the bar after her divorce, but outside of that, we didn’t get to hear a whole lot from her outside of the usual “How’s it goin’, St. Paul? Are you drinking?” (Um, duh, it’s St. Patrick’s Day in downtown St. Paul.)
As an enormous Miranda fan who plays and replays her six albums on repeat, I may have had problems with this stop solely because of how much I connected with her 2012 show. I’ll never forget her powerful, stripped-down cover of Merle Haggard’s “Misery & Gin” or her charming performance of the classic “King of the Road” alongside her openers, Chris Young and Jerrod Niemann. The “Highway Vagabond” tour was missing those little moments and the sense of spontaneity that makes Miranda such a compelling musician.
The audience lapped up her set just like the Mich Golden Light they’d been swilling since 10 a.m., singing along to nearly every song, even the weirdly swaggering “Pink Sunglasses,” which might become an underdog hit for Miranda. To close the show, she followed a fiery cover of ZZ Top’s “Tush” with a contemplative acoustic performance of “Tin Man.” That’s the magic of Miranda Lambert -- you never know when she's going to surprise you and shift gears like that.
Critic’s bias: As previously mentioned, I love Miranda Lambert.
The crowd: Drunk, in cheap cowboy boots.
Overheard in the crowd: Honestly? It was pretty hard to tell because everyone was slurring or screaming.
Random notebook dump: It’s weird she isn’t using her guitar like at all. Her backup singer is flailing, not dancing.
Fastest Girl in Town
Heart Like Mine
For the Birds
All Kinds of Kinds
The House That Built Me
Mama’s Broken Heart
Tush (ZZ Top cover)
We Should Be Friends
Little Red Wagon
Gunpowder & Lead