Let’s get straight to the point: singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert is not just the greatest country artist working today but, with apologies to perhaps Kendrick Lamar and to Bob Dylan still out there on a road somewhere, the best popular musician of our time. As they say on social media, want to argue about it? Come at me.
My stance on this crucial issue was given a tremendous boost by Lambert’s Saturday night stop at Verizon Arena for her “Living Like Hippies” Tour. Haul out your example of products of singular talents at their peak – Steph Curry’s jump shot, Charles Portis’ Dog of the South, anything Joni Mitchell did in the early 70s – and it will compare to this moment in Lambert’s career.
Like being served a five-star meal in a nondescript location, Lambert’s turn in North Little Rock looked for all the world like any other popular country star come to town. In fact, unlike in years past when Lambert and her cohorts would play among fire pots and synchronized dancing lights, this go-round had more backing musicians and decidedly less spectacle (the most striking visual on stage was the white fringe that adorned the sleeves of Lambert’s red blouse).
Approximately an hour and half long, the focus of the night was where it needed to be – on Lambert’s incisive delivery of her ungodly rich songbook.
Ostensibly the “Living Like Hippies” tour (OK, let’s concede there’s a better title out there lurking in one of Lambert’s songs) is out in support of 2016’s The Weight of These Wings (a double album -- Lambert’s sixth -- that has shaky moments to be sure). Saturday night’s songlist stretched back to the exhilarating 2005 hit “Kerosene” and made stops at every step of Lambert’s development along the way, from the quirky “All Kinds of Kinds” to the reflective “House That Built Me” to “Bathroom Sink,” an introspective song that took on a marvelous righteous anger live.
The surprise of the night was Lambert included two hits from her side project, The Pistol Annies. An even bigger surprise was that Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley joined Lambert on stage for the pitch black tunes, “Hell on Heels” and “Pills.”
By the time for Lambert’s sole encore, the rollicking “Little Red Wagon,” the crowd had been worked to a fine frenzy. Earlier, Lambert, who is blessedly light with the stage patter, said, “I feel everything and I want you to feel it to.” It is some kind of trick to put on an all-world, stem-winder of a show and embed it with pithy review of it that can’t be topped.
We’ll let slide this time, Miranda.