It had been a busy and stressful day for me when I headed down to the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, London to go watch Kacey Musgraves for the first time in nearly 18 months. I was excited to get lost in one of my favourites’ fun and spirited live shows, and I was also looking forward to seeing her support act, Sugar & The Hi-Lows (whom I reviewed earlier in the year), bring their brand of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll to a UK audience. The band took to the stage with a bang at 7:45pm, with Amy Stroup the driving force behind their energetic live persona as she danced, sang and hit her tambourine with purpose and effervescence. Trent Dabbs, the other member of the duo, also pulled his weight, bringing a cool 50s swagger to proceedings as he grooved to the beat. While mostly upbeat, they did bring it down for a couple of tracks including the lovely ‘Right Time To Tell You’, winning over much of the enthusiastic crowd (most of whom were already seated by the time the support act came on, a fairly rare occurrence).
After just thirty minutes they left the stage and migrated to the merchandise stand. I followed and was pleasantly surprised to find a crowd of fans looking to get freshly-bought CDs signed and pictures taken. They were busy the entire time and were good to everyone who came to say hi, which is a testament to how nice they are as people and how invested they are in building relationships with their fans (they also returned to the stand after the whole show and continued where they left off). I returned to my seat and eagerly awaited the arrival of Kacey, expecting her to come on between 8:45 and 9pm. However, time drifted on and the audience became restless; on several occasions the 5000+ fans began stomping and clapping in unison to coax Ms Musgraves and her band onto the stage, however it was at least 9:15 before they finally appeared, a full (and inadvisable) hour after the last note of entertainment. I know that many were feeling frustrated at the late start, and while I’m not sure what exactly caused it (aside from a late soundcheck), artists should be avoiding such a gap at all costs.
But the frustrations of the wait were all forgotten as Kacey and her band launched into ‘Pageant Material’ with all the fire and perfected musicality we might expect. The band were decked in candy pink suits with light-up lapels, while Kacey herself wore a sparkling silver leotard and a short pink detachable skirt – quite a shift from the more tomboyish country scene the first time I had seen her two years before. However, of course this album and tour (the Country and Western Rhinestone Revue) have a pageant theme, and she took this very seriously in how the show panned out. Around halfway through Kacey brought her band members closer to the front of the stage and announced the “talent portion” of the night, introducing each musician with a brief display of their “talents”. These included juggling, blind throwing and catching, playing the wooden spoons and her lap steel player acting as his character “Drunk Guy”. With a tone of sarcasm and silliness throughout, Kacey knew how to keep the audience laughing, admiring and paying attention all the while retaining her own ordinary awkwardness that keeps her ‘real’.
And despite the theatrical nature of the thematics and how they were dressed, realness was the true narrative of the night. Each performance was wonderfully on point and kept everyone engaged, ranging from tracks on her first album such as ‘Silver Lining’, ‘Stupid’, ‘Merry Go Round’ (acoustically this time), ‘Follow Your Arrow’, and ‘It Is What It Is’, to her newest offerings such as ‘Biscuits’, ‘Dime Store Cowgirl’, ‘High Time’, ‘Cup of Tea’, ‘Fine’, ‘Family Is Family’, ‘Die Fun’, ‘This Town’ and ‘Late To The Party’. There was even the short instrumental interlude from the beginning of ‘Are You Sure’ during which she made alterations to her costume (at one point removing the skirt and adding long belt fringe, later introducing a cowboy hat). Even her covers were wonderfully Kacey-esque, ranging from Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ to TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’.
But Kacey’s most real and vulnerable moment came when her band left the stage and she stood alone with an acoustic guitar. She addressed the crowd many times throughout the night, thanking them for selling the venue out and dropping in little stories and quips in between songs, but nothing compared to when she talked to 5000 people about last Friday’s terrorist attacks on the city of Paris. “I’m gonna cry,” she said, her voice audibly breaking, as she explained how she had not wanted to cancel the tour because music is healing and life must go on, and she thanked everyone in attendance for being brave enough to come out. Clearly moved by her honesty and raw display of emotion, the crowd applauded and cheered her; if anybody hadn’t been quite on board with her from the beginning, they certainly were now.
But that night in London was a celebration. A celebration of music, of humour, and of human beings. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an entire crowd sing loudly along to every single song during a gig before, and if I have it’s been quite a long time since the last instance. As she and her band sung a short a capella rendition of ‘Happy Trails’ following a nearly two-hour set, I realised she’d provided me all the musical healing I needed that day.
There’s a lot of love for Kacey in this country and I’m so glad that she continues to visit and grow in stature. I’m glad for the fun and spectacle but I’m also glad for the real songwriting that she shares, and the support acts she’s been able to help launch over here. I wouldn’t be surprised if her next tour here sold out even larger venues and even more cities, because if last night is anything to go by, Kacey Musgraves is pretty unstoppable.
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