Lady Antebellum Reliant Stadium March 6, 2013
No doubt other critics do all sorts of mental gymnastics to rationalize listening to Lady Antebellum. This one decided the relentlessly sunny Nashville trio must function as some sort of control group, a way for folks like us to say of other pop-country artists, "Well, they're better than Lady Antebellum, anyway."
But there's nothing wrong with Lady A, which is itself a little bit of a problem. Their über-wholesome brand of country music is far, far removed from the honky-tonks, redoubts of violence, heartache and sin. It's so positive it barely seems even possible. They're very, very popular, and made their fifth straight RodeoHouston appearance Tuesday night.
And I'm no musician (or rather, I'm a very poor musician), but from what I could tell, Tuesday it took Lady A almost all the way through their hour-ish set to play a song in a minor key, or even to use a minor chord. But then with uptempo numbers titled "Lookin' for a Good Time," "Our Kinda Love" and "Perfect Day," why would they?
Those songs alone are replete with images of skipping rocks, afternoons at the lake, nights by a campfire, the open highway and even what sounds like a one-night-stand in the making (risqué!). There's lots of action going on, but very little drama and zero conflict. Couple that with the airbrushed arrangements, which are more or less indistinguishable from one another, and you start to understand the knock on Lady A.
They can be like a smiling mouth with too many teeth. Or, in the case of "American Honey," sugar shock. Singer Hillary Scott admitted as much Tuesday, saying the record company couldn't believe the song (which Lady A didn't write) could be about a real girl. But apparently it is.
On the other hand, their best songs, such as bouncy new single "Downtown" and monster crossover ballad "Need You Now," at least take place inside something approaching the real world: the singer scolding her partner to take her out once in a while (dammit), and then of course in the throes of that late-night phone call she knows she will regret in the morning, but just doesn't care. That's good stuff.
But sometimes you have to step outside of yourself. Luckily, I had a good opportunity to do this Tuesday. I managed to leave my media pass at home (duh), so I wound up buying an upper-level seat and watching the show with the pigeons, sitting up so high I was even looking down on the video screens on top of the rotating rodeo stage.
Man, am I glad I did. First of all, watching a sea of phones twinkling like fireflies during "Dancing Away with My Heart" hit me square in the left ventricle. And then the three teenage girls a couple of rows down who totally owned "A Kiss Goodnight," belting it out like they were in front of the mirror. As much as behavior like that might make me want to roll my eyes sometimes, Tuesday I was right there with them. Yes, I am a softie at heart. Shut up.
The last thing I'll mention is that way up there, the sound system is crystal clear, quite an achievement for one of the most notorious concert environments in the Houston area. Which made it such an unexpected delight for them to break into the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" -- and whatever critic points it may cost me, they killed it. I was right there, all by myself in the rafters of Reliant Stadium, doing my best Mick Jagger.
So I will never say a cross word against Lady Antebellum, ever. All that was totally worth the 18 bucks.
Personal Bias: Why do y'all do this to me?
The Crowd: Future honky-tonk women, each and every one of them. Scattered menfolk, but not very many.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I can hear again."
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Mutton Bustin' Report: A girl from Richmond made it all the way across the course, the only rider to do so Tuesday. One poor boy wound up with "teeth full of dirt," in the words of rodeo announcer Patti Smith.