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Review: Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Posted 1:35pm on Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013

To hear Miranda Lambert tell it, fame hasn’t altered her life.

“I haven’t changed a bit,” said the Lindale native Friday night. “I still like to eat fried food, drink beer and shop at Wal-Mart.”

Granted, she was sharing this with several thousand cheering people, packed into the stifling Gexa Energy Pavilion, but the sentiment — that this multi-platinum, award-bedecked country superstar is just reg’lar ol’ folks — is part and parcel of modern country’s calculated appeal, even if it rings a little hollow.

Approachable she may be, but Lambert is a little past the point where she can play the relatability card.

Then again, judging from the near-constant roar of the crowd, perhaps she isn’t.

Lambert’s hometown-ish shows always feel a little more electric, in part because it evokes a homecoming, a welcome return from a local-done-real-good.

Her 90-minute set Friday, as part of her “Locked & Reloaded” tour with Dierks Bentley, was more rushed — manic, almost — than in shows past. (The first four or five songs whipped by so quickly, you’d have thought the band had a plane to catch.)

But once Lambert and her backing band (featuring long-time bassist and Fort Worthian Aden Bubeck) settled into a groove, the evening took a more relaxed, expansive air, particularly as she downshifted into a great backstretch that featured Kerosene, All Kinds of Kinds, her signature The House That Built Me and Gunpowder & Lead.

The 29-year-old is still a little too fond of covers (three seems like overkill, particularly one as tossed off as Mississippi Queen), especially when she has the Pistol Annies LPs she could pull from. Lambert also seemed distracted and/or diffident during the first half-hour or so, to the point where it was distracting, almost as if she was just going through the motions.

It’s possible that the frantic pace of sitting atop the competitive Nashville scene is beginning to take its toll — constant tabloid speculation about her marriage to Blake Shelton probably doesn’t help either — and Lambert might benefit from taking a breather.

Yet watching the joy radiating from her, as she performed an exquisite, acoustic duet with Bentley on Tracy Lawrence’s Texas Tornado, maybe Lambert just needs a break from roaring guitars and rock attitude. For that brief moment, she sounded almost angelic, harmonizing with Bentley and letting her guard down, moreso even than during her usually showstopping House That Built Me.

It was a tender, wonderful moment, and one which hinted that, just maybe, somewhere inside Lambert, there was still a small-town girl who couldn’t believe all this was happening to her.

Bentley’s hour-long set, on the other hand, was the epitome of everything wrong with the direction of modern country music.

He’s an affable, charismatic guy, unafraid to wade into the audience and say hello, but charm only carries you so far.

Alternating between drinking, romancing and exploring the open road, Bentley’s catalog is aggressively bland and loaded with what Tom Petty infamously described as “ bad rock music with a fiddle.” Only when he performed I Hold On, about refusing to let go of cherished possessions, did any sense of the man beneath the easy grin and tight jeans become apparent.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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