Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
March 7, 2016
“Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Today the above quote is part of pop-culture parlance, but it stems from a 1976 article by author, historian and Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. This author readily admits to flunking feminist studies, thinking it surely must have come from late Texas Governor Ann Richards. Miranda Lambert, though, used it as an exclamation point on the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's video screens following her performance Monday evening before 60,118 enthusiastic fans.
After debuting in 2008, Lambert joined the rodeo's five-timers club last night. She's also the only member of an even more exclusive group — the only solo female artist across the rodeo's entire 20-concert 2016 season. As awkward as that may appear, it also reflects the pathetic reality of Lambert's chosen profession circa 2016: there are only two songs by female artists in the current Top 10 of Billboard's Hot Country Chart...and two songs in the Top 25.
Lambert is not one to take something like that lying down. Last year, she was one of the first artists to weigh in on the ridiculous “tomatogate” controversy, in which country-radio consultant Keith Hill effectively said too many women in a station's rotation was a recipe for low ratings. Her words, expressed via Twitter, were “This is the biggest bunch of BULLSHIT I ever heard.”
Lambert is also the only born Texan in this year's rodeo lineup. Think about that for a second.
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All of that might seem like quite a mantle to assume, especially with mama and daddy looking on. But Monday it was no sweat for the 33-year-old native of Lindale (also Don Henley's hometown), whose voice had no issues whatsoever carrying throughout the stadium. Lambert cruised through her 60-plus minutes of stage time, cherry-picking songs from her five albums but opening with 2005's “Kerosene,” the oldest one in the bunch. Rewriting Steve Earle's “I Feel Alright” from a woman-scorned perspective, the song put Lambert on the map: not only as someone who would not abide cheating, but as someone who was comfortable with the rockier musical language of alt-country – and who could sell it to a mainstream audience.
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Country music has hardly seen someone like her come along since; today perhaps only Carrie Underwood is Lambert's true peer, and she's not going to be playing the rodeo anytime soon. Lambert has taken full advantage of her relatively unique position in the hot-country landscape, playing her bad-girl persona to the hilt in hits like “Little Red Wagon” and “Fastest Girl In Town” while shielding herself from the Values Police as one-half of (until recently) one of country music's highest-profile couples. Kacey Musgraves, who grew up not terribly far from Lambert, may be equally outspoken about similar issues, tomato-wise, but musically she's a little bit too anemic to keep up with Lambert.
That's her lane, which is cool, but Lambert wants to get out there and mix it up with the likes of Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert – the dudes whose AC/DC tapes rested on the dashboard alongside Waylon and Skynyrd. She likes to rock, and rock she did Monday, with plenty of Southern swagger to spare. “Kerosene” and “Fastest Girl” charged out of the gate with plenty of bluesy harmonica, “Baggage Claim” mixed in some CCR-style swamp-rock and huge B-3 swells, and the angry red stage lights mirrored the righteous indignation of “Mama's Broken Heart.” Best of all was a song called “Covered Wagon,” which does not appear on an album, but could easily pass for the best of the Stones' Exile On Main Street years. If this is where Lambert is going next, it's a good look all right.
For variety's sake, Lambert also gave us the Irish-tinged “I'm OK, you're OK” singalong “All Kinds of Kinds”; an aching version of “Over You,” the 2012 ballad she co-wrote with then-husband Blake Shelton, about his late brother; “Sweet By and By,” her gospel-ish contribution to the new Southern Family compilation; and “Automatic,” a Top 5 hit in 2014 and the kind of nostalgic arena-pop ballad that tends to show up in artists' set lists around the same time they start naming their albums stuff like Platinum. But if anyone deserves a little basking, it's Lambert: Monday, she left the distinct impression that she may have quite a bit of history of her own yet to make.
Fastest Girl In Town
Heart Like Mine
Sweet By and By
All Kinds of Kinds
Smokin' and Drinkin'
Mama's Broken Heart
The House That Built Me
Little Red Wagon
Gunpowder and Lead