This past Sunday, the 21st of February, I was treated to an invitation-only Kacey Musgraves concert at Mohegan Sun Casino in CT. I’m not sure how I got invited, as I’m far from being a high roller, but needless to say that I’m quite happy that I was. Especially since the concert was fantastic.
Opening the show was a country band or duo – I thought they were a band, but Spotify only shows two of them – that reminded me of old George Jones and Merle Haggard and even older country records, The Cactus Blossoms. I wasn’t planning to review this show, since I was going purely for fun for a change, so I didn’t take notes of song titles, but I can at least tell you that their set was highly enjoyable. If you like truly old school country music, then I should think you would like them. I found their album on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/album/2u82YoTVFqN1Z7uIbqVCfr
I have to say that I was very impressed with Kacey’s stage, which had the same shiny red background that you see behind her on the album cover of her stellar new album Pageant Material. It almost looked like icicles from a Christmas tree. In front of it, there was a long and fairly thin platform that went the length of the stage on which her band performed, looking sharp in matching outfits that had lights on the sides. (I kept expecting the guitarists to come down from the platform and join her in the front of the stage at some point but they stayed put there, which somehow seemed cooler than it would have been for them to leave the platform.) In front of the platform were a pair of stars with lights on them that reminded me of palm trees for some odd reason. Speaking of lights, there was a disco ball high above the stage where the lights were and some of these lights hit the disco ball several times during the show, causing spots of light to swirl and flicker around the arena. I suppose it should have reminded me of a disco, but it actually reminded me of a roller skating rink because the lights circled the arena like roller skaters going around a skating rink in a circle. It was a nice effect and it made me feel like I was right up there near the stage event though I was down past the floor of the 10,000 seat arena. To that end, they used the floor and the loges for the concert but not the balcony, which I assume was because they were only offering X amount of the free tickets, so it made sense to have everyone down below than have people scattered around the whole arena, leaving lots of empty seats in between people, making the place look empty. This also made sense because Kacey isn’t playing arenas of that size yet. For example, in Boston she played at the Orpheum, which is a mid-size arena like you would see in a theatre where plays are performed, one of the things the Orpheum used to be used for, as well as an opera house.
Kacey opened her nearly two hour set with “Pageant Material,” which, I should point out, is actually about her not being pageant material, less you mistakenly think that she’s some stereotypical pageant princess whose image comes before her music. No, they would not have given her a Grammy Award if she was a ditz. Quite the contrary, Kacey is one of the most clever lyricists I’ve ever heard. (The chorus to this one goes, “I ain’t pageant material / I’m always higher than my hair / And it ain’t that I don’t care about world peace / But I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage / I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial / Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t / I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t.”)
I did not expect her to do “Biscuits” next, since it’s one of her best and most popular singles, but it was definitely a nice surprise; it was a relief to hear it early in the set and not have to keep wondering if she was going to play it or not. It was also mighty fun to sing along to. When she started playing it there were only sporadic people singing along but by the time she sang the chorus the third time almost everyone in the house was singing along, the song being so contagious. “Mend your own fences and own your own crazy / Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.” (The whole show was gravy, really.)
Of course, one of the joys of seeing an artist headline when they only have two albums is that they perform nearly every song from both albums, so no matter what your favorites are, they’re likely to be played. But I should mention that I’d read a set list from a show a couple of days earlier and she hadn’t done “Biscuits,” hence my being relieved when it was the second song. She followed “Biscuits” with “Silver Lining,” “This Town” and “Step Off.” During this run, it occurred to me that her songs have a heavier sound live, the drums in particular packing a much bigger punch. It didn’t subtract from the fact that her music is country though. It made me wonder what “rock” mixes of some of her songs might sound like.
Another pleasant surprise was about halfway through her 22 song set when she performed “A Spoonful of Sugar,” a Julie Andrews cover from the movie Mary Poppins, which was from the We Love Disney CD she appeared on. It’s just a silly kid’s song, really, but it was another one that had people singing along, especially the older folks in the audience. To that end, I think a lot of people in the audience weren’t really that familiar with Kacey’s music and just came because it was a free show and they wanted to use their casino perks but everyone seemed to know this song.
“It Is What It Is” and “There’s A Person There” followed and just before Kacey was about to start another song someone in the front of the audience yelled out “I Want To Burn One with John Prine.” And Kacey obliged him, after explaining to the audience how it was a song she wrote about wanting to smoke up with John Prine, one of her favorite songwriters, which she ended up having to perform sitting beside him at a benefit show years later. Those probably aren’t her exact words, but that’s the gist of it. Like many of her songs, it had a comedic element and you could see people here and there giggling around you as she sang it. Perhaps I should also mention that Kacey is pals with Willie Nelson these days and sings about pot even more than he does. No kidding. There are references throughout her songs, such as this one the quote from “Pageant Material” above. And, speaking of Nelson, he sings a duet on the Pageant Material album called “Look Around You.”
A couple of songs after that, she did “Mama’s Broken Heart” after explaining that she wrote it about her mother but then she gave the song to Miranda Lambert and Miranda recorded it, but then Miranda didn’t end up releasing it. It was a pretty little ballad; I hope she’ll put it on her next album or otherwise release it.
The set closed with “Late To the Party,” “Die Fun” and “Follow Your Arrow” then Kacey and the band bid the audience farewell. We knew there was going to be an encore after that because the house lights didn’t come on, but it must have taken a full five minutes before they returned to the stage. Oh well, it was certainly worth the wait, as she came out with light up boots that matched her band’s outfits and did a fantastic rendition of Lee Hazzlewood’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” made famous by Nancy Sinatra. Bravo, Kacey.