Having witnessed the magic of East Texan singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves on an earlier turn through Philly country (the Trocadero, 2015), there were certain elements of her live showcase that I was prepared for when she hit the stage at the Fillmore for a waaaay sold out gig on Friday night. That she would be sassy and foul mouthed. That her well-dressed band would hit any joint passed up to the stage from the audience. That she would chattily interact with the audience. That there would be hats, and not all of them cowboy. That she and her ensemble would spend lots of time backlit and in the dark so to create an air of mystery that has little to do with her forthright songwriting skills and salted caramel vocals.
Touring then after the release of the sugar honky tonk modern classic, Pageant Material, required all toes and several fingers tucked into the tones of traditional country, skiffle rhythm and rockabilly to go with her sophisti-cosmopolitan take on C&W pop.
What a difference, however, several years, emotional and aesthetic growth and maturation, marriage, a shimmering new Golden Hour, and Grammy noms for Album of the Year make. The Musgraves & Co. that took that Fillmore stage on Friday night were a smoother, shinier lot with far fewer detours like the raw “Family Is Family,” the acoustic fairy tale “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the tender lyrical pragmatism of “We get bored, so we get married / Just like dust, we settle in this town.”
What was the order of the night — played to a super hyped-crowd, several ‘rainbow yeehah’ fans up front, and even a marriage proposal in VIP (congrats Navy serviceman Daniel Caton and Avery Davis) — was a set of love and like songs that was gentler, smoother, sleeker and even in tone.
Her patter, even when raunchy, was of love and togetherness in these weird and hard-scrabbled socio-political times. If a title of one of Musgraves’ tunes could be a bracketed tell-all for the night, it would be “Velvet Elvis.” Or “Space Cowboy.” Or “Happy & Sad.” Or, even the first song of Musgraves’ set, “Slow Burn.”
For this graceful and mostly mid-tempo set was velvety, spacey, moody and stewing: great and powerful where detailed storytelling with a stately allure of loving and leaving intact, to say nothing of Musgraves’ subtly expressive baritone vocals and an intuitive band that picked up on every one of her tics. Yet, when taken as a whole, her set was squeaky clean and shiny and altogether a tad samey by the time she ended the evening. Though individual songs such as the richly complex “Golden Hour” had its dynamic arcs and the relationships within the likes of “Lonely Weekend,” and “Oh, What a World,” held dramatic complications, there weren’t enough tics. So yes, Kacey Musgraves’ moving music was delicious on Friday, yet not entirely satisfying.
Opening act Natalie Prass and her blue-on-blue matching ensemble brought the tics. The quirky, breathy, high-pitched singer songwriter from Richmond, Virginia admittedly only came to Nashville and something of a country sound in time for 2018’s The Future and the Past. Even then, she seemed to make sport of the genre a bit on stage. And yet, all of her cuts — from the Fender Rhodes workout “Oh, My,” to the 90s R&B poppy “Short Court Style” — were touched by the soul of country (or country soul) and found as much brittle nuance in its folksiness as it did its deep rhythmic funk.
And how many country acts, alternative or otherwise, claim elements such as African high life (Prass’ set-closing “Jass”) or silken disco (Musgraves bringing Prass to the stage towards set’s end to cover the Gloria Gaynor hit “I Will Survive”) in their sonic vibe as much as these women did on Friday night?
Kacey Musgraves Setlist
Happy & Sad
Merry Go ‘Round
Oh, What a World
Family Is Family
Love Is a Wild Thing
I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor cover ft. Natalie Prass)
Follow Your Arrow
Neon Moon (Brooks & Dunn cover)
Natalie Prass Setlist
Bird of Prey
Why Don’t You Believe in Me
Short Court Style
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