Monday, 29 October 2018

GIG REVIEW: Kacey Musgraves - O2 Academy, Birmingham. Sunday 28th October 2018

There was enough credit in the Kacey Musgraves bank to forgive a slow start to the GOLDEN HOUR era. While others instantly eulogised over the album, the title of the opening track has never been more pertinent when getting to grips with a new record. It was also apt that ‘Slow Burn’ fires the opening salvo on dates during the Oh, What a World Tour, which is currently rolling around venues in the UK. For the latest visit to Birmingham, the entourage headed across town to the Academy and a renewal with fans in a venue steeped in the city’s musical heritage, long before the corporate world stepped in. An element of curiosity will always surround the music of Kacey Musgraves: a maverick, independent or just another act out to fluidly maximise exposure. One constant is always the inspirational depth to her music and an ability to match interesting facets with excellence. For two hours this evening we witnessed an artist perfecting the art of smooth entertainment, capable of engineering the full range of gear changes, while exuding complete control of the proceedings

As expected, the entire complement of new material fluttered around a packed venue leaving just enough room for some classics to mature nicely like that proverbial fine wine. Rumours of the modern classic ‘Merry Go Round’ jettisoned from the set list were far off the mark and it is impossible to tire listening to its cutting lyrics and smart observation. This evening’s rendition slightly slowed down and had a boost from the haunting tones of pedal steel. The instrument famously described by Danny Wilson as ‘the ironing board of love’ played a significant role across the set and securing the services of ace Nashville based player Smokin’ Brett Resnick for the tour was an astute move.

The band, a six-piece operation and a little more conservatively dressed than on previous tours, played the perfect foil to the glitz and sparkle of Kacey. Easing between the more studio-based sounds of GOLDEN HOUR and the roots focus when the country ‘A’ game ascended, they probably had their finest moment when let off the leash for the final throes of ‘Die Fun’.

The country content (yes, there was still plenty to keep Kacey in credit column) increased when the band re-assembled in acoustic mode at the front of the stage to deliver ‘Oh, What a World’, ‘Family is Family’ and the first half of ‘Love is a Wild Thing’. The first of this trio proved interesting as it is one of the more controversial tracks on the new album from a production standpoint, but tonight it had its roots credentials reclaimed. The final song during this segment is the most acclaimed on GOLDEN HOUR, praised by fellow songwriters as a stellar piece of song writing. Kacey introduced it as the moment when finding love was unexpected and used the second half of the song to usher the band back into standard formation.

Joining a raft of tracks already mentioned as key high spots are five more from a set that just about surpassed the hour forty mark. ‘Follow Your Arrow’ is staple Kacey fare and forever cements in the pre-encore singalong slot. ‘Rainbow’ is one of the most beautiful songs she has recorded and its spot opening the encore was perfectly suited with Kacey just accompanied by a band member on piano.

The track rapidly ascending as a favourite on the new album is ‘Happy & Sad’ and the live version provided further confirmation. Whatever thoughts arose concerning the direction of the new album ultimately override by the sheer quality of the songs and it has been an absorbing experience giving the record room to prosper. On the other hand, it is always enjoyable to listen to what Kacey does best, with ‘High Time’ and ‘It Is What It Is’ proving timely reminders.

While not being the most charismatic and emotive performer on stage, there is an endearing charm to Kacey Musgraves. Vocally she is competent enough to hold sway and probably peaked on that front with the added feeling observed to ‘Space Cowboy’. For a round of fun at the end, she was joined by opening act Sophie from Soccer Mommy to duet on a cover of the NSYNC song ‘Tearin’ Up My Heart’ (research needed to name this track!), and the disco tune ‘High Horse’ either sent some folks home happy or others heading for a swift exit. Take your pick.

It was interesting that Nashville-based indie rock band Soccer Mommy were invited to open on this tour, almost confirming the distant stance being taken from country music. They played a forty-minute opening stint, and paraded as your usual four-piece combo with a lite twangy electric sound. The highlight was a short segment when Sophie played solo for a few tunes, including a different take on Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’.  At this point, there was a touch of Phoebe Bridgers about her. By the way, check Phoebe out if you have not heard her and like a bit of deep feeling indie Americana.

This was the fourth time seeing Kacey Musgraves live and probably the best yet. The performance housed an artist in control and one who works within the limit of their strengths. These obviously lie in the stunning songs that she brings to the table and the affable way they present, along with the top musicians she works with. Horizons are expansive for this native of Golden Texas and who knows where Kacey Musgraves will drift next. One suspects a tenuous tether to country music will always exist and it will be of no surprise if her career evolves into one of influence. This performance upon a return to the only Birmingham that really counts was absolutely adorable and a major advert for the magnetic attraction of top quality live music from an artist who clearly matters.

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