Kacey Musgraves live at the Royal Albert Hall
By Lesley Hastings
A sell-out show ( as this was) at the incredible Royal Albert Hall by Kacey Musgraves is testament firstly to the rise in popularity of country music in the UK in recent years but in particular to how this young artist has won a place in the hearts of many music fans over here. Cries of ” we love you Kacey!” throughout her set and the crowd’s ability to sing along, word perfect, to many of her numbers during the evening were added proof. As an aside, I did find it both sad and frustrating that several of the corporate ( I assume) boxes were empty, whilst genuine fans stood at the very top of the auditorium where both binoculars and oxygen cylinders would have been an asset!
It would be unfair to review this gig without a quick mention of the opening act, Nashville’s ” Sugar and the Hi-Lo’s” who’s 30 minute set of originals and covers ( including a very fine version of the Johnny Cash classic “Jackson” ) was impressive both in its musical quality and in the assuredness of the performance. Seemingly un-phased by the enormity of the venue, they confidently worked both the stage and the crowd, their lead duo harmonising beautifully but also sharing lead vocals which added great variety. A country/rockabilly vibe to their music, I recommend you checking out their two albums if you get the chance. There was certainly a healthy crowd at the merch stand in the interval…………and WHAT an interval, an hour long which after a delayed start anyway meant Kacey and her band did not take to the stage until 9.15pm ( I noticed, understandably, people leaving before their 1hr 45 min set ended….trains to catch, work the following day etc…… which would have really annoyed me had I fallen into that category )
Entitled the “Country and Western Rhinestone Review”, I had plenty of time between the acts to notice that the illuminated cacti from her last tour had been replaced on stage by glitter balls galore, with a red shimmering backdrop behind a raised platform ( which was initially for the band’s rhythm section) and even the mic stand shimmered with bling….. it looked totally amazing and in keeping with the theme, and I must mention that throughout the show the lighting was the best i have ever seen. Slow hand-clapping and foot stomping was beginning to indicate the audience’s frustration with the wait, but Kacey and her band finally graced us with their presence, the boys decked out in their now familiar ( if you saw the last tour) raspberry suits replete with lights, the lady herself in a very cute and suitably retro, peach coloured rhinestone encrusted skater dress ( even her tights glittered!) and white cowboy boots.
Encouraging the audience to stand she launched into her opening song, the title track to her latest album ” Pageant Material” swiftly followed by another single release from the same album, ” Biscuits” which featured some mean banjo playing from one of her excellent musicians. Greeting the audience, she seemed rather humbled and taken aback that she was not only playing in such a historic venue, but that it was sold out, saying ” I don’t know how to process this in human form!” .
Having released another album since her last visit to the UK, Kacey had plenty of original material to chose from which, as usual, she interspersed with a few covers. including the tried and tested ” No Scrubs” ( TLC) , not a favourite song of mine I must say, and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin” ( Nancy Sinatra) which to my mind totally lacks the attitude of the original but is fun none-the-less, especially as she changed (again, as usual) into an amazing pair of illuminated cowboy boots just before singing this. Maybe time for some different choices of covers on the next tour? Talking of which, Coldplay’s ” Yellow” was added to the set this time round, a song she had performed at the same venue just a few night’s previously in front of Prince Harry for the Royal Variety performance (” no one told me you shouldn’t high five royalty” Kacey said after relaying the story )…..the audience loved her version but to my ears her vocals were all over the place, just a bad day, maybe?? In general, I did find the live versions of her own songs much blander than the recorded ones, I do prefer a performer with more feeling and emotion in their voice, sweet as she is, and for me she has very little stage presence in general, her patter in between numbers also not the greatest.
At one point her band left the stage, and Kacey gave an (over?) emotional speech in which she said she was asked if the tour would be cancelled ( in light of the events in Paris the previous week) but as music is healing it would have been the wrong thing to do. Going on to thank the venue’s security guards and the audience for being so brave in coming out ( it had never occurred to me not to show up, to be honest!) we were then treated to a beautiful acoustic version of ” Merry Go Round” which included her handing the mic over to the audience who were more than happy to sing along.
The other break in the set was for what she called the ” talent portion” of the show ( in keeping with the tour’s theme ) which entailed various band members demonstrating some dubious abilities ( such as juggling and imitating a drunk guy) and for me this was a cringe-worthy part of the evening. But as musicians, her band was, as always, superb, in particular I must give her pedal steel player, Adam Ollendorff I believe, a huge shout out, adding fantastic atmosphere to the sound.
The expected acapella rendition of Roy Roger’s “Happy Trails” by Kacey and her band as an encore brought the evening to an end, one which I definitely enjoyed and which was full of glitz and glamour, but as much as I love Kacey’s music I do feel there are better live performers out there. Having seen her several times now ( including, this time round, in such an iconic and beautiful venue ) I am not sure I would rush to get tickets the next time round ( shoot me down in flames if you like!) But no doubt she will continue to fill auditoriums wherever she plays, and it will indeed be interesting to see how she fares in the vast and impersonal o2 arena at Country to Country next March.