You have to hand it to Miranda Lambert. She certainly doesn’t shy away from telling fans just how she feels.
Well into her concert Saturday night at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock and right before singing the weepy “Tin Man,” the country superstar — shimmying around the stage in a red paisley top with fringe on the sleeves, a short skirt and boots — declared what most country fans already know too well. “I had a really shitty year in 2015, and I wrote some really good country songs.”
OK, then. So this is the 2018 Miranda (when you win as many female vocalist of the year awards as she has you can pretty much go by one name), on the road for her “Livin’ Like Hippies” Tour.
The divorce from Blake Shelton is behind her. She still puts on a great show and gives it her all, wanting her fans to have a good time. “I like to make you feel everything,” she says.
She’s still a huge success. The Central Arkansas show was announced as a sellout, attracting 10,318 loyal fans. (A sizable number of those doubled as PardiAnimals, a.k.a. fans of the very likable Jon Pardi, but more on that later.)
And she still sounds great, but fans who have followed her career and have seen her in concert before are aware that something’s just a bit different. She’s not quite as feisty. She seems to be, understandably, a tad more cynical and, perhaps most of all, just not quite as happy.
All right, we’ll stop all this. She is, after all, older now, she deserves a break and maybe we have to admit we simply prefer the “Gunpowder and Lead” Miranda to the “Tin Man” Miranda. Hopefully that’s fair enough to acknowledge.
Lambert sang both of those songs and both, of course, were huge crowd favorites. Her big, powerful voice is absolutely suited to a blistering rocker like “Gunpowder” with its fiery lyrics, such as: “If he wants a fight well now he’s got one/And he ain’t seen me crazy yet.”
Something we did absolutely love — it was a surprise to us, but maybe others knew it was going to happen — was when she was joined on stage by her gal pals Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. Together, they’re the trio the Pistol Annies and they joyfully rocked the house down with “Hell on Heels” and “Takin’ Pills.”
Lambert’s performance was also highlighted by hits like “Kerosene,” “The House That Built Me,” “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “White Liar” before she encored with “Little Red Wagon.”
Pardi, the middle act, was just plain fun. The Country Music Association’s reigning New Artist of the Year has topped the charts with songs about … boots. Apparently he likes singing about them as much as he likes wearing them. His show is a bit rowdy and a whole lot traditional. A California guy who honed his sound in West Coast honky-tonks, he delivered the goods on “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt on My Boots,” and he’s definitely not afraid of a good amount of twang and a steel guitar.
We like both of those songs a lot, but his latest single just might be his best, or at least his most traditional. Not as bouncy as many of his others, “She Ain’t In It” is a thoughtful tale of a post-breakup guy gearing up to rejoin the good-time scene and doesn’t “wanna hear her name” or “see her face.” We find it easy to imagine that a pair of legendary previous purveyors of California-style country like, oh, say Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, would gladly tip their hats to Pardi for that one.
His “Heartache on the Dance Floor,” another hit off his “California Sunrise” album, was a crowd favorite and he also shined on “Cowboy Hat,” “Can’t Turn You Down,” “Night Shift” and a tune (“Out of Style”) about a young songwriter being told to write about what he knows, so he ends up with lines like: “Jesus saves and beer’s better cold/A good woman’s made to love, not just to hold.”
Pardi delivers a bit of a new twist to songs and lyrics that otherwise might have been at home in the country sound of the 1960s and ’70s. And that’s just fine with us. Boots and all.
Sunny Sweeney opened the show with a six-song set of easy-to-like songs highlighted by the excellent “Better Bad Idea” that left us hoping we’ll see her again real soon.