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Review: Miranda Lambert, vengeful yet vulnerable

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Out of her four noms, Miranda Lambert scored one Grammy. Did she deserve more?
Posted 8:57am on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011

What the unusually sedate crowd (for a Friday night at Billy Bob's Texas, anyway) saw during Miranda Lambert's first of two sold-out shows was one of their own, struggling to reconcile the wonderful and the terrible.

The Lindale-bred Lambert was talking about The House That Built Me, a song which won her a Grammy at the recent ceremony in Los Angeles for best female country vocal performance. As she spoke about growing up in small-town Texas, tears began to glisten on her cheeks and she revealed that her grandmother had passed away the night of the Grammys: the wonderful colliding with the terrible. She dedicated the song to her late grandmother and, during its performance was, at times, visibly overwhelmed.

It was a powerful moment, not only in that Lambert was experiencing a profound mix of emotions -- grief, elation, pride, sorrow -- but that you could almost feel the audience willing her through the song, singing along about visiting a childhood home in an effort to reconnect with the innocence of the past. It wasn't clear if Lambert felt any immediate catharsis from the performance (although perhaps following House with the snarling White Liar should've been a hint), but it ranks as one of the most moving experiences I've ever witnessed at a concert.

But the rollercoaster didn't stop: Lambert, rightfully, was a little boastful as the 90-minute set began, mentioning of her status as one of the precious few acts to sell out the venerable honky-tonk on back-to-back nights (she plays again Saturday night). Before launching into Sin for a Sin, Lambert reminisced about how she used to stand way at the back, near the second stage, to watch shows at Billy Bob's Texas (and, again, brushing away a few stray tears). It was just another reminder of Lambert's ascension into country music's upper echelon; not for nothing was the cup she drank from between songs labeled "The Boss." Well, that, and her ability to still make Kerosene or Gunpowder & Lead feel more like threats than songs.

The setlist pulled from all three of Lambert's albums, favoring the latest, Revolution, along with her usual classic rock cover (Rock 'n Roll Hoochie Koo this time around; Up on Cripple Creek has graduated to the encore). She's beginning to play around with existing tracks, re-working them to stave off boredom; More Like Her was stripped down, while Famous in a Small Town benefited from a brief coda. The evening wasn't without its hiccups: The sound was weirdly muted early on, there were a few technical errors (missed notes, flubbed cues and so on) and, considering the occasion, Lambert had to work a little too hard to get the crowd up out of their seats.

Yet the night, clearly fueled by a mix of pure adrenaline and bittersweet triumph, felt right. Lambert is still right there, on the cusp of tremendous things. Friday night demonstrated she can wrestle with her personal and professional lives simultaneously, one feeding the other, resulting in a superstar who's eminently relatable. Too few of Nashville's elite can say the same.

Here's some video I shot of last night's performance at Billy Bob's Texas.

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