“The Revolution Starts Now” read the silky backdrop before Miranda Lambert took the stage. After the 2010 run she had, it would seem that the revolution is pretty much complete, it’s been televised and Miranda is in full control of the Country. In the last few months, she’s won an armful of Grammys, ACM and CMT awards, her 2009 breakthrough Revolution has spawned five hit singles and counting, she has collaborated with her hero Loretta Lynn, and she got engaged to hillbilly boner Blake Shelton.
Her 2011 tour then is a victory lap, not that Miranda is planning on phoning anything in. In fact, she took the stage with such gusto on the opener, “Only Prettier”, that she swiftly ripped open one of her knee-high black boots (“I just got these, but now I can always say I blew out my boot in St. Louie—sounds pretty cool”). Dressed in all black—tight jeans and t-shirt—Lambert sported a tougher, more rock-and-roll look than we’ve seen from her recent television appearances, so gone were the Dolly Parton pumps and hairspray. Instead, Miranda was ready to get mean with the guitars and drums, stalking the stage like a prize-fighter and working the sold-out arena with a quickly-paced set of crowd-pleasers.
Lambert drew heavily from Revolution, getting through two-thirds of the record, with an emphasis on the record’s more rock-oriented material, like “Maintain the Pain” and “Somewhere Trouble Don’t” (shying away from countrier fare like “Airstream Song”). Indeed Lambert’s six-piece band, with dueling razor-edged guitar slingers and a bass player dressed like a high-school English teacher, was locked and loaded for the kind of classic-rock tropes that define country music in its current incarnation.
When ‘Ran did slow things down, as on “More Like Her” from 2007’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, her gifts as a vocalist came ringing through, at times stunningly so. She’s a belter who makes it look easy and her voice was full of clarity, power and control throughout the night. She strapped on some twang now and then, like her swaggering take on one highlight, Steve Earle’s “Hillbilly Highway”. Still, as expected it was the mostly-acoustic version of “The House That Built Me”, the song that made Lambert a superstar, that provided the evening’s most goose bumps. It’s a song that never gets old and she sang gorgeously with the audience singing along so loud that Miranda was more or less another voice in the crowd.
Despite that gentle moment and the fact that her biggest hit is also her most sentimental, Miranda was intent on proving that she’s still a “beer drinkin’, hell-raisin’, deer-huntin’, chicken-fried-steak-eatin’ redneck chick” as she put it. Strangely, the way you prove that you’re a real country girl in 2011 is to rock out and play two different covers with “rock and roll” in the title (Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”). At the same time, the night contained plenty of references to guns and Jesus for the kind of collective whooping that typifies country fans’ ardent sense of identity. Indeed, no one embodies the collective appeal of country music’s current rally around robust hooks, rural pride, and sexy grit-n-glamour as well as Miranda Lambert. And she gave the crowd a heaping helping of just that.