Since she burst onto the scene two years ago with the stunningly insightful "Merry Go 'Round," Kacey Musgraves has been the country music artist who doesn't necessarily follow traditional country music rules, so it made perfect sense that she performed last night at a rock venue in the heart of an urban jungle. Appearing at Chicago's Riviera Theatre on the third stop of her "Same Tour, Different Trailer" run of fall concerts, her last before she takes some time off and begins working on her next album, Musgraves treated fans to an entertaining set featuring music from her debut album, new unreleased material, and off-the-wall covers of songs like TLC's "No Scrubs."
Musgraves doesn't yet have the same level of showmanship as her summer tour partner Katy Perry, nor does she possess an American Idol voice like Carrie Underwood. What Musgraves does have is a collection of incredible songs. The Grammy-winning Same Trailer Different Park was one of the finest country albums of this millennium, and she performed nearly every track from it during the 90-minute show.
The wistful "Keep it to Yourself" sounded gorgeous. "Back on the Map" took on new life with an electric guitar solo and extended outro that showed off the talents of her five-piece band. "Step Off" took a reggae turn in the second verse and eventually morphed into a cover of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." The bluesy "Blowin' Smoke" was strong, and "Merry Go 'Round" was as touching as ever. She saved the anthemic "Follow Your Arrow" for last, delivering its empowering, be-who-you-are message as the audience sang along.
Musgraves sounded a lot like Dolly Parton on a cover of "Here You Come Again," but the most notable cover was her surprising take on '90s girl group TLC. T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli probably never imagined their smash R&B hit about deadbeat guys would one day be performed with pedal steel accents in front of a southwestern motif with neon cacti on stage, but this was how "No Scrubs" was always meant to be heard.
The best news of the evening for Kacey Musgraves fans was that the four new songs she played were just as witty and poignant as her older material, putting to rest any doubts that she might not be able to duplicate the quality of her first record.
"Even if you don't have trailer parks here, surely you have some nosy-ass neighbors," Kacey said while introducing "The Trailer Song," a jab at busybodies who make everyone else's business their own. "You say you're watching the birds out the window / Well, I've got a bird you can watch," she sang. "Biscuits" used puns to take on the same theme ("Mind your biscuits and life will be gravy,"), while "High Time" was a twangy ballad with an acoustic guitar solo and a whistling element.
"Cup of Tea," a literal new track about how it's not possible to be everyone's cup of tea, might be the song that best describes Kacey Musgraves. Her traditional sound and forward-thinking lyrics will never appeal to everybody, but if this night was any indication, she has more than enough enthusiastic supporters to sustain her career for years to come.
Kacey Musgraves set list
Riviera Theater, Chicago
September 27, 2014
1. Silver Lining
3. Blowin' Smoke
4. I Miss You
5. High Time
6. Here You Come Again (Dolly Parton cover)
7. The Trailer Song
8. Keep it to Yourself
9. Back on the Map
10. Mama's Broken Heart (Miranda Lambert cover)
11. No Scrubs (TLC cover)
12. It Is What It Is
13. Step Off / Three Little Birds (Bob Marley cover)
14. Merry Go 'Round
15. My House
16. Biscuits (solo acoustic)
17. Cup of Tea (solo acoustic)
18. These Boots Are Made for Walkin' (Nancy Sinatra cover)
19. Follow Your Arrow
20. Happy Trails (Roy Rogers / Dale Evans cover)