Concert review: Miranda Lambert at Nationwide Arena

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Prior to Miranda Lambert taking the stage at a packed Nationwide Arena on Saturday, the video for "Somethin' Bad," the country star's 2014 duet with Carrie Underwood, played inside the venue. In the clip the two portray modern outlaws, riding motorcycles, betting on blackjack and breaking into bank vaults. It's a hardened persona that carried over into the early part of Lambert's 90-minute performance.

Opener "Fastest Girl in Town" set the tone, working in references to bullets, cigarettes and whiskey - words that surfaced with staggering frequency over the course of the evening (three of the first four songs included nods to smoking, a usage rate that would have left Aaron Eckhart's tobacco lobbyist grinning in the 2005 film "Thank You For Smoking"). By the second tune, the singer, who arrived onstage dressed in leather shorts and a silky black tank top dotted with rhinestones, was threatening to burn everything to the ground. "Forget your high society," she snarled on "Kerosene," a song given extra heft by her muscular, seven-piece backing band. "I'm soaking it in kerosene!"

It was an unexpectedly rebellious kickoff considering Lambert's most recent album, Platinum, is among her most unguarded, scaling back the venom in favor of an increased vulnerability (the untouched, makeup-free "Bathroom Sink") and a newfound willingness to laugh off life's various indignities (on "Gravity Is a Bitch" she delves into the aging process, landing a series of zingers that would make the likes of Dolly Parton proud).

More often on this night Lambert responded to these slights by returning fire - sometimes literally. On "Gunpowder and Lead," for one, the singer, her fingers curled around a microphone stand shaped like a rifle, repeatedly threatened to run home to load her shotgun. Other times the violence was merely implied. On "White Liar" she delivered the line "I've got friends in this town" with a glowering menace that suggested she could disappear a body if need be.

The best moments, however, were those where the singer withdrew the heel of her boot from the audience's throat. "The House that Built Me," among the evening's slowest numbers, allowed ample space to stretch out, which Lambert utilized to staggering effect in a devastating, knee-buckling performance that showcased the bluesy lilt that's developed in her voice. The playful "Priscilla," in contrast, played up her newly uncovered comic sensibilities. Atop a rollicking, steel guitar-kissed musical backdrop, the singer gleefully sought advice from Priscilla Presley on the different ways to navigate a marriage "to a man who's married to attention" (Lambert's husband is country star and "Voice" coach Blake Shelton), packing in punchlines that hit the mark with admirable frequency.

Elsewhere, Lambert espoused a strong women-first philosophy. She dedicated multiple songs to "the girls in the house," and repeatedly brushed off needy or overbearing men in her songs. "I ain't your momma," she chided one suitor on "Little Red Wagon." "Baggage Claim," in turn, found her tiring of dragging around another's "sensitive ego." More tellingly, a video featuring famous historical females, including the likes of astronaut Sally Ride and Jacqueline Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier, played on a trio of screens as the singer and her band first filtered onto the stage.

Considering these circumstances, a song like the sepia-toned, baldly nostalgic "Automatic" felt bizarrely out of place, piling on lyrics that reinforced tired gender roles ("Boys would call the girls/ And girls would turn them down") and celebrated an era where couples commonly clung to loveless affairs ("Staying married was the only way to work your problems out"). It's difficult to imagine the hell-raiser who torched the stage on "Heart Like Mine" shying from making that first call or clinging to a relationship that's long-since run its course, and, frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way.