Saturday’s show at the Sprint Center was a portrait of country music, a genre in a state of transition.
The headliner was Lady Antebellum, a trio whose songs are rooted in pop and rock more than country. Two performers were the openers: one who represents a large portion of its present — country boys singing about the country life — and one whose sound draws from country music’s past and deserves a place in its future. Kacey Musgraves, a 25-year-old singer/songwriter with a soft twang, performed first. Musgraves has been making splashes in the country scene lately for both her neo-traditional approach to music and for her subject matter, which confronts issues deeper than heartache and drinking. Performing before a drum riser that sat behind a white picket fence, Musgraves and her band delivered a set that included “Merry Go Round” from her “Same Trailer, Different Park” album, both of which won major Grammy awards in January: for best country song and best country album.
She also performed “Follow Your Arrow,” a song that gained notoriety for its encouragement of any lifestyle, sexual orientation included, and a cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” that was as country as it was funky, thanks to the gusts of pedal steel guitar. She showed that she knows her way around a guitar and a banjo; during “My House,” she played some decent blues harp.
Musgraves was followed by Kip Moore, one of several male country stars now dominating the charts who drawl about rural landscapes and the country lifestyle, who favor ball caps worn backward instead of cowboy hats and who like their music rooted in Southern rock.
His set included “Reckless (Still Growin’ Up),” “Young Love,” “Cigarette” and a cover of “Stand By Me.”
Lady Antebellum has been one of the most successful and decorated acts in country music over the past several years. Since 2008, they have released four studio albums, three of which have gone platinum, and won scores of awards, including seven Grammys. Like Rascal Flatts and other groups that have prospered on the country charts, their music is primarily ear-pleasing pop and rock embroidered with country filigrees: salvos of melodies, harmonies, guitars and percussion with some mandolin inlaid here and there. It makes for songs that are catchy and engaging but otherwise genre-neutered. Several times, the crowd of about 10,000 joined in on some hearty sing-alongs.
The 90-minute set included tracks off “Golden,” their latest album, released about a year ago, including “Compass” and “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone)” and “Goodbye Town.” They played plenty of older material, too, including “Love Don’t Live Here,” their first-ever single, and “I Run to You,” their first-ever country hit. About halfway through the show, the three members — Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood — gathered around a microphone and rendered a medley of songs in vocals and acoustic guitars, a throwback to the time they were just getting started, Kelley explained. They also sang “And the Radio Played,” which namechecked three decades of country stars and their biggest hits.
They played a few covers, too: “Our Kind of Love” was fused with a verse or two of the chorus from Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Late in the set, Musgraves and Moore came out and joined the trio and its five-piece band on Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” which got a rousing response. The encore included Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and “Cups (When I’m Gone)” by Anna Kendrick.
But the biggest moment of the night was their first encore, which is their biggest hit: the sky-scraping anthem “Need You Now,” a song about a late-night attack of acute heartache, loneliness and drunk-dialing.
Sonically, it’s more Foreigner than Alabama, but its message is universal and one that is as country music as anything: A lot of life is getting through the hard parts.
Compass; Better Off Now (That You’re Gone); Our Kind of Love/Get Lucky; Get to Me; Just a Kiss; Love Don’t Live Here; American Honey; It Ain’t Pretty; I Run to You; Dancin’ Away With My Heart; Wanted You More; Goodbye Town; Hello, World; And the Radio Played; I Won’t Back Down; Downtown; Lookin’ for a Good Time; We Own the Night. Encore: Need You Now; Wake Me Up; Cups (When I’m Gone).