Seconds before Miranda Lambert traipsed on stage Saturday night, the two large video screens displayed rapid-fire photos of famous movie women and their guns. (Does that sound like a “Jeopardy” category?)
The message was clear for her Locked and Reloaded tour at the Cruzan Amphitheatre: Lambert was coming out firing. And with such songs as “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder and Lead,” the small-town Texas girl made it clear: Don’t piss her off. As one writer once remarked, “Her love songs usually end with someone getting shot, burned, or buried.”
For those who didn’t know, Lambert reminded fans that she learned to fire a shotgun at an early age. Her father was a police officer and Miranda was hunting deer before she was out of high school. So when she sings “You ain’t seen me crazy yet,” she has plenty of street cred.
But the 30-year-old can make a crowd tear up, too, as she did with “The House that Built Me” and “Over You,” in which she herself got weepy over as the song closed (a fan had handed her a photo of the song's deceased subject). And you can admire her as a ballsy woman, but you still need to note that she’s not afraid to use a pink microphone or guitar.
She zipped through her first five tunes so quickly that sometimes it was difficult to understand what she was saying – and with such intricately written songs that’s almost ruinous. There’s a line between bringing the energy and flying breakneck through a song, and if I had my way, I’d have erred a little more on the side of clarity.
After that came a nice country version of The Beatles’ “Get Back,” Lambert’s popular “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Famous in a Small Town,” which notes that everybody dies famous in a small town.
“Don’t let anyone discourage you from your dreams,” she said, but not at all in the way Taylor Swift would. “I’m up here doing what I love, even though I have one leg shorter than the other.”
She included her recent single, “All Kinds of Kinds,” the video of which portrays a variety of people holding up signs that identify themselves. Lambert held up a sign saying “Dog Rescuer Kind,” a reference to her foundation, Mutt Nation. She also related that she visited a Wellington-based Big Dog Ranch Rescue Saturday and couldn’t help herself. (A 6-year-old girl, Riley Weinberger, had created a video about the rescued animals she cares for as a volunteer there and had invited Lambert to come tour.)
“We got a new dog,” Lambert said. “Blake’s not happy, so please pray for me and the dog.”
More casual music fans have gotten to know Lambert as the wife of “The Voice” judge Blake Shelton, but that’s selling her way short. Note that Lambert had already begun her string of six straight Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year awards back in 2007. She didn’t marry Shelton until 2011.
But you can see that they share the same sense of humor, as evidence by Lambert’s white tank-top, which read: “Never cry over spilled milk, it could have been whiskey,” accompanied by a tight mini-skirt and almost knee-high gold boots.
White tank tops are also a theme for Dierks Bentley, who performed just before Lambert but is billed as a co-headliner. His 14-song set – including his action narrative “What Was I Thinkin’” about girl in a white tank top -- almost wore the crowd out before Lambert even set foot on stage.
Bentley, with his backward ballcap, untucked flannel shirt and torn jeans, is all country, and such songs as “Feel That Fire” and “Sideways” show him off well. And he’s come a long way since I saw him for free under the tent at a pregame Dolphins concert back in the Dave Wannstedt era. How the guy is not headlining shows himself is kind of a mystery to me. Maybe it’s just a matter of that one career-making smash to push him over the top.
One could argue that Bentley’s new single, “Hold On,” could be that song. Written with references to his father, who died last year, the song is his personal, Bentley says. He prefaced it by relating that he still drives the 1994 Chevy truck with 200,000 miles on it.
“I feel like I’m that same guy, still,” he said.
Like Lambert, Bentley isn’t afraid to give you a direct view into his innards, pour out whatever’s in there and let you see that they have the same sadness, insecurities and small victories in life that the people they’re singing to do. It’s that kind of honesty that creates their permanent and loyal fans.
Sunday morning update: Lambert closed Saturday night's show with "Oklahoma Sky," a departure from much of her tour, incuding Friday night in Tampa, when she brought Bentley on stage to help sing Roger Miller's "King of the Road." Yes, I'm kind of bummed she didn't do that here.