NEW YORK CITY — The more country stars tend to eschew the raw, rootsy side of their sound in favor of electronic production touches and hip-hop heavy programmed beats, the more remarkable — and reassuring — it is that an artist as uncompromisingly organic-sounding as Miranda Lambert can be so successful.
With songs and vocal chops like hers, it shouldn’t seem so unusual for someone like Lambert to be headlining Madison Square Garden, as she did on Saturday (March 28) when her Certified Platinum tour — also including Jukebox Mafia, Justin Moore and Pistol Annies bandmate Ashley Monroe — rolled into New York City. But considering the current country climate at the moment, Lambert remains an anomaly.
She kicked things off by airing the Outlaw side of her persona on her 2012 hit “Fastest Girl in Town” and the 2005 single that really started the ball rolling for her, “Kerosene.” With guitars ablaze and the drummer pounding the living daylights out of his kit, she played her rock ‘n’ roll bad girl role to perfection, spitting out the words like they were setting fire to her tongue.
The set took a more self-referential shift with “Platinum,” the title track from Lambert’s latest album, casting a wry glance at her own stardom and the 2011 single “Heart Like Mine” hinting at how her journey to fame began. After spewing a little venom at a double-crossing lover on “Baggage Claim,” Lambert leapt into the evening’s lone allusion to the other half of her power couple, hubby Blake Shelton. The irony-soaked Platinum track “Priscilla” shows some sympathy for Priscilla Presley as a fellow spouse to a singing heartthrob, and Lambert flashed the audience her ring on the song’s final note.
Lambert brought things down to a simmer for the brokenhearted ballad “Over You” before exhorting the audience to “think about who you are and where you come from and what you stand for” by way of introduction to “All Kinds of Kinds,” the bouncy anthem of inclusion from 2011’s Four the Record. Before the song was over, she had the whole arena’s hands aloft in sync with hers. Then the girl from tiny Lindale, Texas, gave the NYC audience a taste of how the other half lives on her Top 20 single from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend “Famous in a Small Town.”
While the rocking side of Lambert’s musical personality wasn’t exactly kept under wraps from the start of the set, she unleashed her rock ‘n’ roll roar in no uncertain terms with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1971 classic “Bitch,” even though the orneriest licks on the tune came courtesy of a squealing pedal steel. Shifting back into romantic-revenge mode, she tore a hole in outdated ideas about etiquette for scorned women on her platinum (as opposed to Platinum) 2013 single “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
Settling down on a stool with an acoustic guitar in hand, Lambert paid homage to one of country’s original outlaws, declaring, “I feel like I wouldn’t be complete if I left here and didn’t play a Merle Haggard tune.” She handily precluded any risk of incompleteness with a spare-but-trenchant take on the Hag’s 1980 hit “The Way I Am.” In addition to her solid sense of musical history, it should be noted that the 31-year-old is one of the few country stars of her generation who has no qualms about bringing a band onstage that includes people who don’t automatically get carded when they sit down at a bar.
After a tune from Platinum that Merle himself would probably approve of, “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” Lambert turned the last section of the show into a non-stop hit assault — from the tear-tugging “The House That Built Me” and the latest album’s “Automatic” and “Little Red Wagon” to her excoriating 2009 smash “White Liar.” She closed with the song guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of unfaithful men everywhere, the homicidal hit “Gunpowder & Lead.”
For the encore, three stools at the front of the stage were occupied by Lambert, her backup singer Gwen Sebastian (who also works with Blake Shelton and cut a hit duet with him last year on “My Eyes”) and Monroe. After asserting “We all agree that there oughta be more women in country music,” Lambert led the trio into a cover of the Dixie Chicks’ 1999 No. 1 tune “Cowboy Take Me Away.”
Making a 180-degree turn for the final song of the night, Lambert burned boldly and brightly on a rough-and-ready roadhouse version of another 1971 classic-rock staple — Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” — complete with a snarling Telecaster solo. And just in case the fans suddenly forgot they were at a country show, she locked arms with her band for a bow while a recording of the Roy Rogers chestnut “Happy Trails” pumped out of the sound system.