CHICAGO — Martina McBride finally made the album she’d always wanted to make — Timeless. And now she’s finally out on the road sharing it with the fans who’d stand by her no matter what era the music came from.
For almost three hours, McBride made the Rosemont Theater in Chicago feel like the Grand Ole Opry. Wearing a vintage-style gold brocade cocktail dress and matching gold pumps, she opened her show on Sunday night (Jan. 29) with Ernest Tubb’s 1963 honky-tonk hit, “Thanks a Lot.” Then she moved gracefully into her own heartfelt version of Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Explaining why she produced an album of classic country hits, McBride told the crowd, “I did this as a tribute to these songs because they’re still relevant today. They’re about things like love and loss and heartache.”
Introducing the next song, McBride noted that Loretta Lynn hosted her induction into the Grand Ole Opry 10 years ago. Calling Lynn “the original redneck woman,” McBride launched into “You Ain’t Woman Enough” while old black and white photos of Lynn faded in and out on the screens behind her.
Smiling and dancing across the stage, she sang a few songs she said “make you want to drink a beer and do a two-step.” Among them were songwriter Harlan Howard’s “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down” and “Heartaches by the Number,” which she sang in harmony with her brother, Marty Schiff. Marty, she said, started playing guitar when he was only 5 and the guitar was bigger than he was.
In a sentimental tribute to Hank Williams, McBride said she chose to include “You Win Again” on Timeless because of all the songs he wrote about his personal heartache. The song was also on McBride’s demo tape when she got her first record deal.
If she wasn’t singing the virtues of Hank, she was asking her fans, “Who here doesn’t love Buck Owens?” before going into his “Love’s Gonna Live Here.” Back in 1963, a proud Owens watched that song spend 16 weeks at No. 1.
Crowd favorites included Lynn Anderson’s “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” Eddy Arnold’s “Make the World Go Away” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” with McBride saying that Wynette was one of the people who made her feel most welcome when she first arrived in Nashville.
And in the style of a true Southern lady, McBride changed from her short cocktail dress into a long black-sequined evening gown for the last few songs of her first set. Today’s country music uniform of low-rise jeans, a tight tank top and a belt buckle the size of Texas would hardly be appropriate for crooning like that.
After a short intermission, McBride’s seven-piece band returned to the stage. And again, she slipped into something more Martina: black pants embellished with rhinestones, a black velvet blazer and black stiletto boots. She wasted no time showing the audience her other side, starting with “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues.” Although, she told the sold-out crowd of 4,300, “If you’re here because you like Timeless, you must be thinking ‘What the hell just happened?’”
McBride spent the next segment giving the fans the songs she’d made famous, including “Love’s the Only House,” “Wild Angels,” “My Baby Loves Me” and “Concrete Angel.” Then McBride did something she probably hasn’t done since she was first touring: She took requests.
“I take full responsibility for this because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing,” she said. “But I know some of you have been fans for, like, 10 years. And usually when you’re on the road, you have to drop songs after a while. So we’re going to sing what you guys want us to sing.” The first request was for “A Broken Wing.” McBride half-whispered into the microphone, “Well, that’s one of my big numbers at the end, so I can’t do that one. And don’t ask me for ‘Independence Day’ either.” She ended up doing three requests: “Whatever You Say,” “I Love You” and “Blessed.”
When she made it to one of her final songs of the night, “A Broken Wing,” McBride’s passionate voice stretched “oughta” out about 10 seconds long. And when the applause came at the end, she said, “That makes it worth the [vocal] cord I almost blew out just then.”
After 28 songs, McBride called it quits, but she came back to the stage for an a cappella encore of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and was joined by an acoustic guitar about halfway through the song.
Watching McBride give a performance like this feels nostalgic and prophetic at the same time. Because as much as she wanted to pay homage to the traditional country music she grew up on, it’s likely some country artist will pay homage to McBride herself years from now.
McBride’s tour is scheduled to make 31 more stops before the end of May.