SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Jessica Simpson received a warm welcome on Monday night (Aug. 25) at the California State Fair in Sacramento, playing her first headlining set in three years and focusing almost entirely on her upcoming country album.
Was it worth going to? Yes, for her fans and skeptics alike. If nothing else, the 80-minute concert gave her a chance to preview her new album, which has a lot more depth than the first single, “Come On Over,” would indicate. So far, she’s received ringing endorsements from Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, even if contemporary country fans haven’t quite yet decided for themselves.
Wearing a flannel plaid shirt over a white bustier blouse, she kicked things off with a sassy version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” strolling from one side of the stage to the other, pushing back her blonde hair about 50 times. Then she sang a song about loving yourself (“Still Beautiful”) and finding peace in a romantic relationship (“You Are My Sunday”). However, not everybody is so smitten with her boyfriend, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. When she chirped, “Go Cowboys!,” she got booed. I should emphasize, though, that’s the only time she got booed all night.
“Tonight, I’ll be singing a lot about a heart that’s been … (long pause) broken to pieces,” she declared before her fourth song. “And putting those pieces back together so I can be a good girlfriend to someone else.” The song was called “Sipping on History,” and its first line is, “I could have been your June Carter Cash.” But she called upon the catalog of another female country star, Shania Twain, for a cover of “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” — which she had to start over. After getting a lyrical refresher from the audience, she sailed through it the second time. At the end of the song, she determined, “It’s OK to start over!”
Simpson told the audience that one of her favorite songs is “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow. Then, in another monologue to the audience, she lamented the fact that she is so hard to date.
“If you want to date me, you have to be OK with camera flashes,” she said. “You have to be OK with people telling you that you’re dating a dumb butt. You have to allow me to pass gas under the sheets.” People cheered, and she dedicated the song, “Man Enough,” to “anyone who thinks they’re man enough for me — and I spend too much money, too!”
The song itself has a sturdy pulse under its melody, and with a pumped-up bass line, this one’s ready to be a dance remix. Surprisingly, the song that Parton wrote for her, “Do You Know,” also has potential for a pop crossover. Somehow it delicately treads the line between being sensual and just a little bit dirty. The melody is all Dolly, but Simpson sells it, wailing like a diva at the end. It’s also the title track to Simpson’s upcoming album which is due Sept. 9.
And that brings us to the intermission, where Simpson stepped off stage for five minutes to drink some “throat tea.” The band introduced itself with a few instrumental solos, and then suddenly, the pop star Jessica Simpson showed up! I can see how people who only know her pop hit, “With You” (with the lyric, “Nothin’ but a T-shirt on, I’ve never felt so beautiful”), would beg her to stay away from country music.
However, Simpson is not afraid to show her vulnerable side. Many younger female artists today appear more determined to exact revenge on their ex, while Simpson seems more content to wallow in her misery (musically speaking) and to take the time to heal.
She spent a long time introducing her second country single, “Remember This.” (Ironically, she couldn’t remember if it really was the second single, but she said she thought it was.) This is the song that has the tabloids in an uproar. Was she abused? Who abused her?
“I realized how much value I had lost when I was in a certain relationship and how much self-confidence I lost,” she said. Although Simpson said the abusers will always come back and apologize, she advises that you “put on your sneakers, take your heart and run away as fast as you can. It’s hard to do, but God will bless you if you do.”
Essentially that’s the message of the song — sharing her experience about leaving an abusive relationship and encouraging abused people to get out. It’s composed by her co-writers on “Come On Over,” and Simpson said she wept the first time she heard it. She nearly broke down in the performance, too, with tears welling up in her eyes. At the end, she merely said, “That’s a hard song to sing up here.”
Then she turned spiritual by singing “Pray Out Loud,” inspired by advice her dad gave her as a little girl. She followed that with “Son of a Preacher Man.” And finally, a big question: “How many of you out there have ever dated a butthead? Well, so have I!” Then she started talking about leaving abusive relationships again and how she thinks that the still-unnamed fellow didn’t even realize he was controlling her. She reminded the audience, “They always come back. Just don’t pick up the phone.”
I’d say maybe 2,000 people were watching the show, which was free with fair admission but $40 if you wanted seats in the first 22 rows. No big deal — every aspiring country star has to play the fairs and festivals to build a solid fan base. Before closing with “Come On Over” and telling everybody how she had to pee so bad, she insisted that she loves it when fans come up to her, calling her “Jess” and saying they’re just like her. That last quality alone will help her find her way in country music.