Miranda Lambert headlined a sold-out Roanoke Civic Center on Saturday | Photos by Daniel Lin, The Roanoke Times
UPDATED with edited version and correction at 2:08 p.m., 1.21.13: Miranda Lambert’s song “Over You,” co-written with her husband, Blake Shelton, is about the death of Shelton’s brother. The print version and an earlier online version were incorrect.
By Tad Dickens | 777-6474
Deep into her performance at Roanoke Civic Center on Saturday night, Miranda Lambert had figured out the crowd demographics.
She told the sold-out room of 7,563 people that she saw some dressed in camouflage and some in cowboy gear. She saw grandmas, grandpas and small children. She saw black people, white people and colors in between.
One thing united them, in Lambert’s estimation.
“We’re all here because we love country music, y’all,” she shouted.
More specifically, the crowd loved Lambert — the curvy, feisty Texan with the honey twang singing out-of-the-ordinary lyrics. She and her five-piece band gave it an hour and 15 minutes of hard country-rock, and the crowd responded with singalongs and lighter-waving throughout an 18-song set full of hits from across nearly a decade of work.
Her touring partner, Dierks Bentley, gave it an hour of his own hit-laden material before joining Lambert near the end for a cover of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll).” And he helped her close the encore with his “Bad Angel,” which saw both performers’ bands on stage for a big, bluegrassy musical finish.
Bluegrass, outlaw and honky-tonk music and lyrics were better represented on Saturday night than has been typical for recent country shows at the civic center. Both Lambert and Bentley have plenty of pop and rock touches in their music, but both showed real understanding of the genre’s tradition.
A video intro showed images of women including Loretta Lynn — quoted in the video saying that Lambert was one of her “very favorites” — Cher, Dolly Parton, Beyonce, Reba McIntire, Annie Oakley, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Oprah Winfrey, the cartoon character Betty Boop and the pinup Bettie Page. Then Lambert emerged wearing black and strumming a pink Gibson electric guitar as her band powered through “Fastest Girl in Town,” one of her newest songs.
“I hit the bottle/You hit the gas/I heard your 65 can really haul some ass,” she sang.
Her set was full of such wild-child lyrics. “I’ll keep drinkin’ and you’ll keep gettin’ skinnier/I’m just like you, only prettier,” she sang in a number that started and finished with some old-school Chet Atkins-style guitar.
Lambert told the audience that she was a bit “left of center,” prone to say what was on her mind and inattentive to those who try to tell her what and how she should eat and drink.
“I’m proud of my weight. … It’s all about being exactly who you are,” she said before leading her band through “The House That Built Me.”
The well-paced set included the night’s highlight and new single, the polka-meets-two-step “Mama’s Broken Heart” — “I numbed the pain at the expense of my liver. … Word got around to the barflies and the Baptists/My mama’s phone started ringin’ off the hook.” An emotional highlight came with “Over You,” when by the end of the song — which she co-wrote with her husband, Blake Shelton, about the death of
Shelton’s brother — Lambert was in tears.
“Well, good lord, you’ve already got me crying, and I’m only four songs in,” she said. But for the most part, she smiled, hollered, boogied around and worked hard — including strutting her stuff during a country-funk-rock cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.”
“I hope you’re getting your money’s worth,” she said. “I’m sweating, if that means anything.”
Bentley, back in the civic center for the first time since opening for Keith Urban in 2009, is headliner quality. In fact, he shared the bill with Lambert for this “Locked & Reloaded” tour. But only three shows into the run, his resonant tenor sounded worn at times, and he missed a note here and there.
But he more than made up for it with his energetic and affable stage presence and a killer band that brought plenty of banjo, fiddle and steel guitar that were more than superficial dressing.
His “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” and “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do” had legitimate outlaw country feel, unlike other acts that pass through who feel the need to name-drop the likes of Waylon, Willie and Hank Jr. into their songs, so listeners will know what they’re trying to do.
Bentley often strummed a well-worn Martin acoustic, in particular on new song “I Hold On,” a pop-rock ode to the guitar, pickup truck and other holdovers that keep him “going strong.” During “Lot of Leavin’,” he pulled a woman up on stage and strapped his red Fender Telecaster over her shoulder, holding the chords while directing her strums, then leaving her to slap fives with folks in the pit while his guitarists traded fours.
The band went acoustic for the title cut to his bluegrass record “Up On the Ridge,” then stuck with that configuration for a reworked “Settle for a Slowdown.”
First-on-the-bill Lee Brice had only about 25 minutes to work with, but he again showed that he has one of country music’s strongest voices. Brice, who opened for Luke Bryan in 2011 at Salem Civic Center, wedged in hits “A Woman Like You,” “Hard to Love” and “I Drive Your Truck.”