Saturday, 21 November 2015

Kacey Musgraves' Country & Western Rhinestone Revue, Manchester Albert Hall, 16/11/15

Well it's been a while, but other than an impulse trip to see Cat Power (which was interesting) I'd not been to a gig since watching Foo Fighters at LCCC in July. July! It's disgraceful. This week saw me make a start to correcting that.

It's been well over a year since I saw Kacey Musgraves at The Ritz. The intervening time has seen her release Pageant Material, her second album for Mercury Nashville, which to this listener's ears is a tremendously fun record that further enhances her reputation as one of the wittiest and most down to earth songwriters in country music.

Before I get into Kacey's show though I have to mention the support act Sugar and the Hi-Lows. They played a great set littered with out right foot-stompers and made an indelible impression on the audience (including yours truly). Cries of disappointment rang out when they informed us "this is our last song." I hope they come back soon.

Sugar and the Hi-Lows
So, onto Kacey's set. The central theme to Pageant Material's artwork is retained via the band being dressed in ridiculous hot pink suits with LEDs embedded into them and the stage being decked in the sparkly, tinselly curtains from the album's cover. Or as one guy in front of me put it, "The decoration looks a bit cheap dunnit?" Also playing up to the pageant theme, during a more intimate part of the set with the band closer to the front of the stage, each band member was required to show a talent. Here, I have to give major props to the juggling guitarist and the guy who plays all those complicated instruments like the steel pedal guitar with the neat "drunk guy" impression.

Heading into this show Kacey expressed her desire to present an old school, feel good country show on this tour, and the natural warmth that radiates from her songwriting carries over tremendously into the performance. She has a great command of her audience and fills the show with friendly patter, sharing stories of being told off for high fiving Prince Harry at the weekend's Royal Variety Performance, hugging Elton John and fretting over playing "Follow Your Arrow" in what was formerly a church ("Will I get struck by lightning?"). 


She also possesses this almost June Carter like ability to put her tongue in her cheek without getting overly tawdry: after guitarist boyfriend Misa Arrianga finished his trick for the talent show, Kacey divulged that "He's also really good at something else". Cue wolf whistles followed by Kacey pondering "What y'all hootin' for?" to big laughs. Turns out he was good at downing whiskey. I don't know what the rest of the audience were thinking...

Her knack for showpersonship, though relatively subtle, is really pretty remarkable and her and her band all look tremendously comfortable on stage. Some of the covers in the set perhaps illustrate this best. I don't know how I wound up forgetting about her ace cover of TLC's "No Scrubs", but her stage presence when revelling in a song with such sass and borderline pantomime was really something to see. Of course near the end of the set the LED cowgirl boots made an appearance for her cover of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'", the song becoming near riotous approaching its conclusion thanks to a brilliantly intense performance from her band, with the guitars taking on a "Paint It Black" vibe to them.

Another thing Kacey shared was her appreciation for Mancunian and in general British crowds, especially for their attention to detail to lyrics. She certainly gave us a lot to mull over. The entirety of the chorus to "Die Fun" is just brilliant ("We can't do it over, they say it's now or never and all we're ever getting is older"), while "Fine", which she revealed as her Grandma's favourite, paints a great picture of longing for that special someone while they're away ("I've stopped counting sheep now I just count the days 'til you're back in this bed").


Of course, there were many occasions where attention to detail went out of the window and everyone just wanted a big sing along, and with material this catchy there was plenty to sing along to. Before the show began it seemed there were more men in the audience than the last time I saw Kacey which made me feel a tad less out of place. However, as soon as the opening song hit and I had a listen to the voices of those singing along I felt like I was at a Girl Scout's meeting! The audience sounded so loud I felt they could have done with turning the volume up on Kacey's mic. They evidently did, as her vocals didn't have to compete quite so hard with the audience's for the rest of the night.

What did yours truly enjoy singing along with the most? Gosh, practically half the set! "Biscuits" is one of those "why didn't anybody think of that earlier?" bits of genius with that golden line "Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy". And of course plenty of songs from previous outing Same Trailer Different Park got outings, "Silver Lining" and "Step Off" being particularly nice to hear again. 

But for me the most infectious song in a set filled to the brim with infectious songs was "Dime Store Cowgirl". I know it doesn't make much sense for a man in his mid-twenties to be singing "Oh I'm just a dime store cowgirl" but frankly I don't give a hoot in hell. There's something joyous in that song's combination of surpassing the expectations of your detractors while staying in touch with what made you who you are that strips away your inhibitions. That title is such a clever play off Glenn Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" that it's almost disappointing to hear it was an insult some housewife hurled at a young Kacey rather than something she came up with herself.

Closing with a cover of Roy Rogers' "Happy Trails" that not even an errant microphone could ruin, the prowess of the band's backing vocals really comes to the fore as they sing in the round along with Kacey. This always makes me appreciate in hindsight what great vocalists those guys are and what they added to songs like "It Is What It Is" and "Late To The Party".

Alas it's also a reminder that the end of the night is upon us and it was time for me to leave a very happy man having soaked in a great show filled with friendliness, great musicianship and plenty of other reasons why I adore country music. Having later played a sold out show at that other Albert Hall in London (with an attendance greater than her hometown of Golden, Texas), this tour has to be seen as nothing short of a success that will hopefully propel Kacey onto even further success.

In any event, happy trails to you, until we meet again...

Setlist

  1. Pageant Material 
  2. Biscuits 
  3. Silver Lining 
  4. This Town
  5. Mama's Broken Heart 
  6. No Scrubs
  7. Fine/Are You Sure
  8. Dime Store Cowgirl
  9. Family Is Family
  10. Stupid
  11. It Is What It Is
  12. Yellow  
  13. Merry Go 'Round 
  14. High Time
  15. Step Off
  16. Blowin' Smoke
  17. Late To The Party
  18. Die Fun
  19. Follow Your Arrow 
  20. These Boots Are Made for Walkin' 
 Encore:

  21. Happy Trails