There was this moment during “All Kinds of Kinds” when Miranda Lambert was recalling standing up in geometry class and you wondered if the thought crossed her mind: am I really here? Lambert was singing in front of over 15,000 people headlining the Keeper of the Flame tour, on a cold rainy night at the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater in Bristow, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C.
Lambert began the song by talking to the audience about celebrating yourself. One couldn’t help but think about her stature as a female titan in a male-dominated industry which includes her support acts Kip Moore and the Brothers Osborne. Cheering on everyone’s bad assedness, you had to notice that even in the amphitheater’s common area women seemed a little bit more empowered tonight. Many I saw just bypassed the lines to walk into the men’s restrooms. Some of the men appeared to be a little bit unnerved; one was muttering he was feeling like he was in a unisex bathroom at Target. But a quick look at the long lines would have answered the question that it was just a shorter path to be freezing. Remember the song that the women are smarter?
Lambert’s nine piece band seemed more at times like a Las Vegas revue than a country music headlining band. During “Little Red Wagon,” back-up singer Gwen Sebastian joined the multi-instrumentalists to mill about in circles in a campy routine that could have come right out of a Broadway musical. But earlier during “Bathroom Sink,” Lambert’s band seemed more like a punk rock outfit with three electric guitars (and she on acoustic guitar) as they ripped through a dissertation about insecurity and self-doubt.
The pivotal track from her Platinum album put her in front of mirror as she gave a grueling anti-star self-confessional. “I’m looking for the girl I want to be but regret has a way of staring me right in the face,” Lambert sang, as if she played a game of mirror-mirror on the wall and got a rejection notice. It didn’t matter that Lambert’s earth hippie angel outfit, with the dangling fringe of her brown suede and angelic sparkling headband, didn’t fit the image. Her band put their game face on, staring down the audience as if to say “we will rock you… and we will tear down your town.” (Which they did.)
Lambert’s inner fandom came out during a cover of “Mississippi Queen,” the guitar laden romp originally done by Mountain and later a staple of the Wii game Guitar Hero. There were a lot of blank looks around me as she playfully stalked the stage like she was the queen of karaoke. Lambert doesn’t quite have the deep register of Leslie West so it took a few lines to adjust. But Lambert showed her parents raised her right with her deep musical vocabulary and her ability to be playful with the lines.
If the show felt like it could be a re-run of past summer tours with “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder and Lead,” they weren’t the dominant anthems of the show. However, Lambert still seems obligated to play them. It’s a testament to the wide array of writing and songs that she has assembled over the years, including “Famous In a Small Town”, ”Heart Like Mine” and “Automatic.” When she extended her mic to the audience for “The House That Built Me,” it had become as much the audience’s song as hers. Lambert exuded soulfulness on “Covered Wagon” as she took us on a journey back in time and then killed it with “Automatic.”
For all of her star power, Lambert didn’t need the props like her openers the Brothers Osborne and Kip Moore. When T.J. Osborne was last here, he was up on the lawn watching Alan Jackson on a similar cold night. The mild-mannered brothers who hail from Maryland one state away used a megaphone to get people going in the opening song. That was the only prop of their otherwise serviceable set. Moore on the other hand had two big black blocks he could stand on to elevate his diminutive stature.
Moore is a likable enough guy but tries a little too hard. He reverses his baseball cap and wears a tank top to ensure you can see his protruding arm muscles and raises his hands in the hair to let you in on his armpits. Moore borrows and recycles classic rock riffs from Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (in “Running For You”) and Deep Purple’s “My Woman From Tokyo” (in “Beer Money”). Moore came to play the role of healer summoning the riffs of “Angel of The Morning” and one-minute of Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me.”
When Lambert came out for an encore, she brought back Moore and the Brothers Osborne. She went into “Willin,”” the Lowell George and Little Feat song made famous by Linda Ronstadt. You could tell this wasn’t the first time Lambert’s played the song as she had a commanding presence on guitar and a sense of that which came before her. As each of the three alternated verses, if you closed your eyes, you might have mistaken Moore for Axl Rose with his reedy third verse. He missed coming back for the chorus and had some history homework left to do.
It was a little rag tag by the time they got to begin their cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” We got one verse and I really wanted to hear them sing about the Kentucky coalmines and the California sun in the words to come.
But it was all impromptu and it felt really authentic. I’ll take authentic over automatic every time.