Miranda Lambert and her husband Blake Shelton share a song in their respective repertoire, “Over You”, a number the couple co-wrote and a song I’ve now heard both perform separately at Madison Square Garden, and the differences are important because it shows exactly where they both are as country music entertainers. I wrote this last August (here) about Blake’s version: “His two most important songs performed solo were also canned but they were very moving. Especially a song he wrote with Miranda for his brother. They decided Miranda should record the track (because Blake couldn’t get through it without breaking down). Blake’s brother Richie died in a car crash at the age of 24, the song is devastating:”Because you went away, how dare you? I miss you” before the stark ” It really sinks in, you know, when I see it in stone.” Blake was 14 years old when his brother died.”
Last night, Miranda sang “Over You” straight no chaser with the video spooling on the screen. A song that all but begs for context was given none and if part of you might be thinking something like “good for her, it is strong enough to stand up on its own”, the truth is country thrives on context in 2015 and this is a song that makes her husband cry, but the oddly cool version, in the midst of a generic performance that needed a jolt of something to make it matter, didn’t get a second thought. Blake connects with his audience, he shares himself, Miranda doesn’t.
Opening act Justin Moore, a good ol’ country boy from Poyen, Arkansas (population: 272) who signed to Big Machine, hit it big with “Small Town ,USA” and has opened for some big names, and this “Certified Platinum” bigger than most, is nowhere near as great as Miranda Lambert, but he performed her off stage last night. Refusing to allow New York to stop him, he faced the 20K audience by speaking directly and smartly to us, he explained himself and his songs, and he connected New York City to Poyen with excitement and honesty. While I didn’t appreciate being bullied into standing up in respect for US Servicemen (less to do with Servicemen, though it is an enlisted persons armed forces, more to do with being bullied), and while I sure don’t like “any rednecks out there?” shout outs, and I don’t think the thirty year old is such a great songwriter, still he overcame these deficiencies, and Miranda, who has none of them, didn’t. Indeed, Jukebox Mafia, a covers duo performing everything from “Uptown Funk” to “Boys Round Here” on a small stage between sets, connected better with the audience.
There is something a little distant about Lambert, it is bizarre that a woman who has such a distinct sense of herself as a bad good girl, a firebrand, a proto-feminist country rock icon, should have problems projecting this. An arena should be a place the woman can handle with ease, she should have had us exactly where she wanted to. She didn’t manage it; the great “Platinum” was overwhelmed by the video (a cracker), “Mama’s Broken Heart” smart but a little tart, the four song hard rockers to take you to the encore were good but didn’t add up the way they were written up. How a move from “Automatic” through “White Liar” and beyond can not add up is something of a shocker. Just her presence should be enough: Miranda is a beloved country rocker chick (Platinum won the Album of the Year at the CMA.and the Grammy for Best Country Album and deserved em) and a great backstory who went June Carter to get her man (a nascent country icon), and married him, while pointing out that even Jesus drank wine so get off her her case, couldn’t make her case. This night should have been catnip, she should have got all of it and then some but she couldn’t connect well enough, other than some perfunctory patter, she didn’t speak with the audience, didn’t maintain eye contact and didn’t bring them to her. There was no high spot, well, maybe “Mississippi Queen” segueing into the Stones “Bitch” but otherwise, the one thing you could expect from a country singer songwriter (she does write a lot of her own material) was to embellish the liveness of a live setting, to reel the audience in. Frankly, I’m shocked at her cavalier attitude.
The band, four guitars including Miranda’s, were pretty good country-rockers, and Miranda in an “I Love NY” tee shirt looked the part, the 20 song set wasn’t entirely ungenerous though the 80 minute performance was awful skimpy for a major arena performance. She has more material, Miranda didn’t even pull out one of her best songs, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” -a hit that gave her a unique personality she managed to squander on stage, so why the speed up?
To put it plainly, with every reason, including a great catalogue, fine voice, extreme popularity, and beauty and smarts, to rock the house, she forgot to unpack em and let Justin Moore take her to the woodshed. What a drag.
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