MINNEAPOLIS — Lady Antebellum, Kip Moore and Kacey Musgraves on the same bill might sound as disparate as, say, ice dancing, luge and curling. But those are all Winter Olympics events, and those three acts all call country music home.
Actually, the triple bill on Lady A’s Take Me Downtown tour made for a diversely entertaining evening Friday (Feb. 7) at Target Center in Minneapolis, though one not quite as spectacular as the opening ceremonies of the Olympics that were being televised at the same time.
Truth be told, Lady A has upgraded its presentation dramatically from its Own the Night tour in 2011-12 with giant video screens, confetti cannons, a Y-shaped runway extending from the stage and a remote stage in the bowl end of the arena where the trio opened the concert with “Compass.” With its mandolin and anthemic folk-like chorus, the current single had echoes of Mumford & Sons as the three singers in black (Hillary Scott’s sequined-decorated black frock could have come from Stevie Nicks’ closet) paraded triumphantly to the main stage in midsong.
But the biggest change for Lady A is an injection of new energy: More up-tempo material, more physicality and a more essential role visually for Dave Haywood, who seemed too much like a wingman on the last tour. This time, he seems like a full-fledged member of the trio, standing out front with his own microphone stand.
The Take Me Downtown tour was actually delayed for two months to work on the stage production, to allow co-lead singer Scott more time to bond with her baby born in July and to write, find and record new material which ended up on a deluxe edition of their Golden album released in November.
However, the delay resulted in a new profile this month for opening act Musgraves, following her Grammys for best country album and song and the return of her Same Trailer Different Park to No. 1 on Billboard‘s country albums chart. Her newfound visibility meant that most of the 7,800 concertgoers arrived early on Friday.
Musgraves is homecoming-queen cute, jingle-writer clever and Seattle Seahawks hot. But the 25-year-old Texan had a challenge commanding the attention of the crowd. With her sweet, clear voice, she made her sharp, witty words heard. But it wasn’t easy for her to negotiate the stage and runway in those 5-inch high-heeled cowgirl boots and skin-tight leggings. (Loved the black Alabama-band T-shirt under a white furry vest.)
Still, Musgraves showed her personality and stage presence during her 40-minute set. She mentioned her last Minneapolis performance opening for Kenny Chesney at Target Field last summer. She plugged her next Twin Cities gig, opening for Katy Perry this summer. And when it came time for her current single, “Follow Your Arrow,” the tune she sang on the Grammys, she managed to turn it into a giant singalong. As she stood in front of a white picket fence, she had half the crowd sing “hey” and the others sing “yeah” as big lights spelling out those words blinked behind her.
Moore, who followed Musgraves, knows how to work the arena stage. Maybe the intermission music gave concertgoers a clue what to expect — Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”
Sporting a backward baseball cap and Fender guitar T-shirt, Moore rocked the house with loud 1980s arena-rock guitar work and a raspy Springsteen-ish voice. He tore through rockers like “Reckless” and “Where You Are Tonight,” the power ballad “Young Love,” a cover of Ben E. King’s pop classic “Stand by Me” and his swampy signature, “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.”
Three years ago, Lady A might not have had the oomph to follow the rollicking Moore. But you could have called them Lady Ebullience on Friday. All three members bounded around to various parts of the stage, seeming totally refreshed and renewed. And it wasn’t just because co-lead singer Charles Kelley said he’d consumed too much Red Bull.
The members of Lady A have been resourceful in figuring out ways to amp up the energy of its 90-minute set. For instance, they grafted a bit of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” onto the end of “Our Kind of Love.” For the encore, Lady A went totally Top 40 with Avicii’s dance-pop explosion “Wake Me Up” and Anna Kendrick’s “Cups (When I’m Gone).”
Lady A acknowledged its country roots during “And the Radio Played,” a shout-out to such heroes as Willie Nelson, Tracy Lawrence and Shania Twain, whose old album covers were flashed on the giant big screen.
The trio had fun introducing their five backup musicians, each of whom played riffs from noncountry hits. And, this being Minneapolis, Kelley mentioned hometown hero Prince, and he and the band spontaneously broke into a version of the Purple One’s “Kiss.” But Scott cut them short, saying, “You want to make them proud, not ashamed.”
The set featured an acoustic segment by just the trio — including “Goodbye Town” and “Hello World” — that nicely showed off their honey-kissed harmonies. But they weren’t about to go quietly into the night.
“Need You Now” was preceded by a series of clips of everyone from Lea Michele on Glee and fans in homemade videos singing the song. Then, in front of a red velvet curtain backdrop and under dramatic lighting, Scott and Kelley carried on about that late-night booty call, complete with him punching the air with unabashed enthusiasm.
The set’s other big moment was a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” with Lady A joined onstage by Moore and Musgraves. For her return to the stage, the newcomer switched to more manageable footwear — those sky-blue cowgirl boots decorated with Christmas lights that she wore on the Grammys.
Jon Bream is music critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and author of Prince: Inside the Purple Reign, Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time and Neil Diamond Is Forever: The Illustrated Story of the Man and His Music.