Take your pick at to which of the following underscored the very electric theme of “girl power” that ran through Miranda Lambert’s wildfire sold-out performance last night at Rupp Arena.
+ A show-opening video montage of other, multi-genre women hitmakers that included country legends Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, cross-generational soul-pop celebrities Tina Turner and Beyonce and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson (the latter, by the way, just happened to be onstage with a show of her own down the street at Buster’s at that very moment).
+ The concert’s introductory one-two punch of Fastest Girl in Town and the breakout Lambert hit Kerosene, all full of anthemic power chords, that set the show in very forward motion.
+ A surprise, mid-show, four-song set by the Pistol Annies, that teamed Lambert with gal pals Ashley Monroe and Martin County native Angaleena Presley that led off with the red hot hit Hell on Heels (“I really wanted to Twitter about this earlier today,” Lambert admitted. “But …”)
+ Two cover tunes that had nothing at all to do with country but everything to do with the program’s emancipating feel – Lady Gaga’s You and I (done up with a curiously convincing neo-country grind) and Tom Petty’s Free Girl Now (which was all hot-wired arena rock fun with guitars fully blazing).
+ The career-defining Gunpowder and Lead, the fist-raising anthem offered late into the 90 minute performance that allowed Lambert to brag to the sell-out crowd of 10,000 about her prowess with a shotgun (“I’m pretty good with it, too”).
+ A sparse, piano-led encore cover of the Aretha Franklin classic Do Right Woman that came with another worthy boast (“Did I scare ‘ya with that one, boys”).
All of that was probably enough to make the performance a winning deal. There were other stray notables, both strong and perfunctory. The recent hit Baggage Claim kept the performance’s free spirit drive on full throttle while the ballads Dead Flowers and The House That Built Me were more standardized country fare full of languid melodies, over-abundant sentimentalism but still rich vocal turns from the star herself.
Show openers Chris Young and Jerrod Niemann (who joined Lambert for a concert finale cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s Honky Tonk Heroes) offered more expected profiles of mainstream country-pop, right down to their similar, ultra-casual appearances (“I couldn’t tell these guys apart if they were in a line-up,”offered a friend seated nearby).
The difference was that Young’s set was more exuberant and honestly country-savvy, from the roadhouse drive of the set-opening Save Water, Drink Beer to the power ballad The Man I Want to Be.
By contrast, Niemann’s introductory set was faceless rock dressed up in commercial country dressing. Neither his tunes (from the opening rock-a-rama Guessing Games to the mid-tempo sing-a-long of What Do You Want possessed much that was truly distinctive. Niewmann’s unremarkable vocal leads didn’t help. It was all as good-natured as could be, but compared the firepower that followed, Niemann’s set was largely left in the dust.