Miranda Lambert puts on the year's best country concert in Milwaukee, with help from the Pistol Annies
As country radio continues to grossly underrepresent women — female voices on the format declined 66% last year compared to the year 2000, according a study issued this spring — seeing Miranda Lambert at Fiserv Forum Friday was both encouraging and frustrating.
This was easily the most exciting country concert of the year in Milwaukee, with Lambert leading an ace all-female bill, including her supergroup the Pistol Annies, Elle King and Ashley McBryde.
But there were loads of empty seats in the upper bowl Friday night, and there was practically a fire sale for prime seats. A fellow reporter at the Journal Sentinel managed to get a great lower bowl seat for just $35 Friday — fees included. That's a heck of a deal for the seven-time CMA Award winner for Best Female Vocalist of the Year with one of the strongest country discographies of the past decade, but clearly she's worth more.
And honestly, if country radio were more supportive of Lambert and those other incredible women who played Friday — Lambert, one of a handful of arena-headlining country women, hasn't had her own No. 1 country airplay tune since 2012 — I'd suspect Fiserv Forum would have been packed and discount pricing wouldn't have been needed to fill those seats.
Maybe country radio will come around for Lambert's next album "Wildcard," out next month, but I doubt it. Lambert played five songs from that record, from the rousing show opener "Locomotive" to the sassy "Tequila Does" (perhaps the album's best chance at heavy radio play) to the bubbly "It All Comes Out In the Wash," with its playful shrugs toward social faux pas.
My favorite of the new batch was "Bluebird" — a spiritual successor to fan favorite (and show highlight) "The House That Built Me." On the latter, Lambert is a lost soul desperately hoping for healing. On "Bluebird," the world is in despair — certainly relatable in 2019 — but Lambert, movingly, is determined to not fall into the abyss.
"And if the whole world stops singing, and all the stars go dark, I turn the light on in my soul," she sang.
Friday's show also illustrated why Lambert's trophy case is loaded with those female vocalist awards — especially during a lone acoustic take of "Tin Man," which questions why "The Wizard of Oz" character would want a heart when it can shatter so easily.
But Friday's show also suggested it's time for Lambert to get that entertainer of the year prize, too, with her fierce delivery of "Gunpowder & Lead," a killer revenge tale addressed to an abusive boyfriend; a cheeky performance of "Mama's Broken Heart," which changes from a twisted love-goes-mad tale into a condemnation of societal expectations for ladylike behavior; and a ripping "Little Red Wagon," with Lambert curling her lip and slapping her butt as she sang about her "backyard swagger." (The eight-piece band also matched Lambert's swagger all night.)
It didn't seem like that moment could be topped, but Lambert did just that by ending the show on a high note of female empowerment, bringing out her Pistol Annies bandmates, along with Elle King and Ashley McBryde, to cover Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love."
"Thank you for supporting women in the music industry tonight," an appreciative Lambert told fans Friday.
It's time for country radio to do the same, on a much, much bigger scale than they do now.
Pistol Annies, Elle King and Ashley McBryde also performed
Halfway through Lambert's hour-and-45-minute set, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, her partners in their country supergroup the Pistol Annies, came on stage for their own six-song, 20-minute set, taking on taboo topics like family dysfunction on "Hush Hush" and divorce on "Got My Name Changed Back" with infectious cheer. But they pulled on the heartstrings, too, for the quietly devastating, ironically titled "Best Years of My Life," and covered Elvis Presley's "Love Me," their gorgeous harmonies sounding even richer than the King himself.
For her hourlong set, Elle King came on stage wearing a Harley-Davidson shirt, but she wasn’t just trying to win points from the Milwaukee crowd. She came across as the personification of the Harley mythos, a do-what-she-pleases hell-raiser singing about being a “chain-smokin’, hard-drinkin’ woman” and embracing her “bad tattoos” and love of whiskey on “America’s Sweetheart.” And when King unleashed her bluesy, Janis Joplin-like wail, her voice was as visceral and commanding as a Harley roaring down a highway.
Ashley McBryde, the favorite to win the CMA Award for new artist of the year next month, hasn’t had the radio support she deserves either, despite all the well-deserved accolades for last year’s smartly penned and soulfully sung debut album “Girl Going Nowhere.” But McBryde is still thriving. When she performed the empowering title track Saturday, about chasing a music career despite the doubters dismissing her talent and dream, McBryde received hearty cheers as she sang the line “I hear the crowd.” And when she sang the last chorus of “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” — and heard that crowd singing the words back to her — McBryde couldn’t help bursting into a happy laugh.
- A crew member nicknamed “Blue,” whom Lambert praised as a great singer and songwriter, joined the band for a cover of Linda Ronstadt’s “Willin’,” where he held his own opposite Lambert with his soulful baritone.
- In between songs, Lambert praised the design of Fiserv Forum, said she was looking forward to eating cheese curds and discussed her spiritual kinship with people from Milwaukee. “You like cheese and beer, I like cheese and beer,” she said. She also had a keyboardist from Stevens Point, Danny Mitchell, who had his own golden vocal moment during that Ronstadt cover.
- Favorite sign spotted in the crowd: An elementary school-age girl was thrilled to pop up on the big screen over the stage holding up a sign that read, “My mom named me after you.”
The set lists
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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.
Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.