Toward the end of her 100-minute show Saturday night at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, Kacey Musgraves thanked the near sold-out crowd for its support. In so doing, she took a jab at mainstream country radio — or “a big format,” as she put it — which hasn’t been as supportive.
Musgraves, 27, is a Grammy- and CMA-winning country artist, but she doesn’t get a lot of airplay on country radio, mostly because she doesn’t abide by its expectations. “I ain’t exactly Miss Congenial,” she sang in “Pageant Material,” the song that opened her set on Saturday. “I wish I could, but I just can’t / Wear a smile when a smile ain’t what I’m feelin’.”
More Dixie Chicks or her mentor, Miranda Lambert, than Carrie Underwood, Musgraves writes songs about love, relationships and family, often from the point of view of an outsider or outcast. Many are frank sermons and parables that preach individuality: Accept and embrace who you are and where you came from; be who you want to be, not who others expect you to be, sexually or otherwise.
Onstage, she exudes an appealing mix of warmth and wit, snark and snide, with the occasional f-bomb tossed in for effect. When a fan up front returned to Musgraves a harmonica that had been stolen from a previous Kansas City appearance (by a friend of the fan’s mother), Musgraves deadpanned, “Well, thank you. And (bleep) your mother’s friend.”
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She was backed by a five-piece band dressed in suits festooned with glowing lights on their jackets and along the outseam of their pants. Musgraves wore a miniskirt and cowboy boots. They performed on a stage decorated in a desert theme, including neon cacti.
Midway through the show, she let each band member show off a skill or stupid human trick. They included juggling and the creation of a balloon animal. And during the encore, she bashed open a pinata and tossed its candy into the crowd.
Her set list tapped deep into Musgraves’ two full-length recordings, material with which many in the crowd were familiar. She choreographed a couple of singalongs; a few others broke out spontaneously. “Biscuits” was the first of those. From the onset, the crowd roared back “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy” like a vow or a mantra.
The rest of her best-known material — “Merry Go ’Round,” “Follow Your Arrow” and “Mama’s Broken Heart,” a song she wrote for Lambert — aroused loud singalongs, but this crowd also responded boisterously to other favorites, like “The Trailer Song” and “Family Is Family.”
She paid tribute to Kansas City, but not with yet another tired version of “Kansas City.” Instead, she covered Roger Miller’s “Kansas City Star.” That was one of four covers. The three others: a version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” that had a Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three vibe; a rendition of TLC’s “No Scrubs” that ignited a wave of dancing; and “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” an encore for which Musgraves changed into light-up cowboy boots and danced about, Nancy Sinatra-style.
It was a fitting close to a show from a woman who dances to her own beat and who treads in places more country artists ought to explore, no matter what the formats advise them.
Pageant Material; Biscuits; Silver Lining; This Town; Step Off; I Miss You; Good Ol’ Boys Club; Fine; Dime Store Cowgirl; Family Is Family; The Trailer Song; Crazy; It Is What It Is; Kansas City Star; Merry Go ’Round; High Time; Mama’s Broken Heart; No Scrubs; Late to the Party; Die Fun; Follow Your Arrow; These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.