in performance: miranda lambert/justin moore/raelynn

miranda lambert performing last night at rupp arena. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

miranda lambert performing last night at rupp arena. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

There were three clear instances last night at Rupp Arena that nicely defined the lasting crossover appeal of Miranda Lambert.

Probably a lot more bubbled within and briefly out pf the refreshingly steamlined show the newly-dirty blonde country singer put on for a hearty crowd of 13,500. There were rugged electric rockers like Kerosene and Baggage Claim that reflected much of the concert’s tempo as well as broad melodic strokes within songs like Over You that had more in common with the ‘80s pop of Phil Collins than anything that even today could pass for country music. But three times during the course of the night, the distinction and depth of Lambert’s performance became startlingly clear.

One instance came midway through her 90 minute set via the 2011 tune Mama’s Broken Heart. The title suggested country tradition. But last night’s performance presented Lambert’s seven-member band constructing a neo-reggae groove that simmered until the singer delivered a suckerpunch chorus full of comparatively punkish vigor. The resulting music wasn’t country, but the mash-up certainly rattled the concert’s anthemic country-pop core.

Another surfaced with the 2009 hit The House That Built Me, a slice of domestic and reflective pathos that would have turned shallow and sentimental in less capable hands. While Lambert is far from the most technically dazzling singer in the world, she proved a powerfully intuitive one here by conjuring a sense of very credible country drama with vocals full of torchy reserve and elegance.

Opening acts Justin Moore and RaeLynn preceded Lambert with sets that differed remarkably. Moore was the traditionalist of the evening, able to turn what could have been an audience pandering cover of Home Sweet Home (by that classic country outfit Motley Crue) into a slice of rural solace that, stylistically, sounded unexpectedly honest. The power ballad If Heaven Weren’t So Far Away was similarly winning. But the more amped up the set got, the more generic and shopworn Moore sounded.

RaeLynn was all about chirpy Disney-style pop, right down to her version of All About the Bass. The set was proficient but innocuous – a perhaps fine G-rated outing for kids attending their first concert, but strictly empty calorie pop to most anyone else. But country? This? Forget it.

That brings us to the evening’s other point of clarity. Three songs into RaeLynn’s set, a family arriving late to my left took in roughly five minutes of the sugary songs on display, turned my way and asked, ‘Where’s Miranda?’ Without waiting for a reply, the entourage left and returned five minutes before Lambert’s set began. Now that’s star power.

(To view Rich Copley’s photo gallery of the concert, click here.)

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