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Friday, April 20, 2012

Miranda Lambert w/ Chris Young and Jerrod Niemann @ Bradley Center

April 19, 2012

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Plenty could be said about Miranda Lambert. That she has become a big enough star to have nearly filled the Bradley Center Thursday night speaks to how commercial-country listeners have accepted a feisty female singer unafraid to upend the gender stereotypes for her genre, an artist whose complexity of character has invigorated the music.

Lambert wouldn't necessarily say any of that about herself, but the seeming lack of disconnect between the autobiographical stories she tells on stage and her songs evinces a genuineness that allows her to get away with being arguably the closest country has ever had to a distaff outlaw. Yet, she's so ingratiating about her rowdiness that the greater temptation is to want to buy her a drink than to feel any intimidation.

Some of her best-known hits, however, come from places of anger, even revenge. She announced after recent single "Baggage Claim" that it's a song she wrote when she was pissed off, but now that she's married (to fellow country singer Blake Shelton), she knows what it's like to be really pissed off. Ornerier still are the tales of comeuppance in the '60s punk stomp of her first top 20 entry, "Kerosene" and "Gunpowder and Lead," which Lambert prefaced with a recollection of how she learned at a young age how wrong it is for a man to beat up a woman.

If numbers such as those mentioned above bring out the her rocking side that meshes well with much of the work of her male peers, more introspective and tender pieces connect her to folky, traditionalist country roots. The poignancy of little victories and recognitions among a close community inform "Famous in a Small Town," and though she has transcended that tune's scenarios, her narrative voice is one of compassion, not condescension. "The House That Built Me" explores the evanescent nature of nostalgia for one's childhood, even as it portrays genteel Southern manners. More emotionally plaintive, current radio smash "Over You" may be less subtle, but her power ballad-esque reminiscence of a relative who died when she was a teen packs a sincere wallop; she commented on how even though she wrote it, the song is an example of music's healing power to her.

And the gal has a sharp sense of humor to boot. Not only is she comfortable enough in in her own skin to joke about her marriage  in front of a crowd of thousands, but she doesn't spare the spirit of camaraderie Nashville's country cadre presents to the public. Lambert related how she told Lady Gaga at this year's Grammys how, though country performers have more of a "one big happy family" vibe among them than the rivalries that characterize pop music's competitiveness, she would like to win some trophies just as much as other blondes in her genre that night. Was that a Carrie Underwood diss? Either way, it made for a fun introduction to the snarky "Only Prettier."

Gaga provided another of highlight's of Lambert's set, too, as the dance-pop diva's "You and I" was transformed into a pop-country natural. That wasn't the night's only worthwhile remake. A tribute to Levon Helm, who passed on earlier that day, came by way of a spirited rendition of The Band's "Cripple Creek," and for the first of her encores, she assayed Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman-Do Right Man" accompanied only by piano and stand-up bass. In another minimal arrangement, she led a trio rendering of Roger Miller's wry "King of the Road" with her two opening acts to end the evening on a surprisingly low-key note. 

Among the openers, Chris Young has the upper hand of quality. His boyish handsomeness and warm baritone twang engaged the audience, with memorable songs of romantic fidelity, honoring family virtue, negotiating heartache and boozing it up a bit. Like Alan Jackson and other forebears, Young has an ear for balancing his music's history with the modern production values that generate airplay, of which he's garnered much in recent months.

On top of the bill, Jerrod Niemann typifies much of why some people nowadays say they like "all music... except country." Starting his set with a ditty entitled "Real Women Drink Beer," having his first national smash with '90s soft alt rockers Sonia Dada's "Lover, Lover," hipping the audience that his otherwise most affecting single so far, "What Do You Want from Me" is about a booty call and sporting a doofus trucker cap? What's not to not like? He does come off as a fun, if boorish, barroom buddy and makes occasionally fine use of reggae and trop rock influences. But still, urgh.        

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