I love live music, and fortunately for me, going to concerts is a big part of what I do. That said, I’m a bit jaded, and 90% of the time, I’ve got a pretty good idea as to what I’m going to see and hear before I actually attend a concert. But every now and again, I’ll admit to being taken completely unawares. Such was the case with Miranda Lambert: Velvet Rodeo, the Las Vegas Residency, in the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood; and in the best possible way.
Simply put, I don’t listen to country radio; and as such, contemporary country artists just aren’t really on my radar. Don’t get it twisted: I love the classics. Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and Glen Campbell? Most definitely. Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn (RIP, Queen), and Willy Nelson? Absolutely! Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, and Charley Pride? Giddy-up! Porter Wagoner (and his Nudie suits), Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson? Love ‘em. Charlie Daniels, the Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, the Judds, Reba McEntire, Tricia Yearwood, Garth Brooks… Well, you get the picture.
So, while I’ve known who Miranda Lambert is (I don’t live under a rock!), before last weekend I couldn’t have named even one of her songs; and it was thusly ignorant that I attended the opening night of Velvet Rodeo. I figured I’d go and check it out, likely stay for the first 10 or 12 songs, and then head home to write about it. This, however, is not what happened.
Rather, I was completely bowled over by the authenticity that permeated every aspect of Lambert’s performance; all 22 songs of it. Further, I was impressed that she—in collaboration with her team and those of Caesars Entertainment and Live Nation Las Vegas—had decided to ignore much of the so-called conventional wisdom applied to the production of a Las Vegas residency show. Thus, you will not see a squad of limber glamazons dancing behind Lambert and her fantastically tight band—guitarists Ethan Ballinger and Jerry Massey, steel guitarist/mandolin/banjo player Spencer Cullum, keyboardist Daniel Mitchell, bassist Jonathan Murray, backing vocalist Gwen Sebastian (who is sensational!) and drummer Max Zemanovic—with which she’s been touring and recording for much of her two-decade career.
Nor will you find yourself listening to a bunch of backup singers putting on a show-within-a-show while she is offstage changing costumes. To wit, the only costume “change” came when she added a souped-up version of the Day Off Pink Metallic Leather Fringe Jacket from her Idyllwind: Fueled by Miranda Lambert (“A lifestyle brand for all the confident, adventurous, perfectly imperfect badass women”) collection to the stunning two-piece blue-and-gold ensemble created for her by The Blonds—inspired by one of Elvis Presley's Vegas jumpsuits—that she wore throughout the night. And a shout-out to stylist Tiffany Gifford for pulling it all together so gorgeously. Oh, and when I said the jacked had been “souped up” I was referring to the way in which Gifford had fringe added to the sleeves, fringe that, during “Gunpowder & Lead,” lit up with a pyro effect akin to sparklers. And, at that moment, Lambert was (with all due respect to Alicia Keyes and Katniss Everdeen) living her best Girl on Fire life, for all the world to see.
Neither of these omissions should imply that Velvet Rodeo in any way skimps or pulls back on the aesthetics, though. Quite the contrary, actually, as the sets are lovely, the visuals are stunning and in very high resolution, and it’s the best use of lighting I’ve seen since Jennifer Lopez’s All I Have residency, a half-dozen years ago, in this same theater. Cowboy hats off to creative director Raj Kapoor and lighting designer Tom Sutherland, who shared co-production designer credits for Velvet Rodeo.
Having spent the weeks following the opening of Velvet Rodeo taking a deep dive into Lambert and her music—in addition to having won a trio of Grammy Awards, six American Country Awards, eight CMT Music Awards, and fourteen Country Music Association Awards, she holds the record, with twenty-nine awards, as the winningest artist in the history of the Academy of Country Music Awards—I can say definitively that I cannot wait to go back and experience Velvet Rodeo again, now that I’m a bit more familiar with her body of work.
My favorite number of the night was the Elle King and Martin Johnson-penned “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” an anthemic contemporary country hit released as a duet by King and Lambert; the performance of which brought the energy in the Zappos Theater to its zenith with a climactic confetti-drop under which Lambert channeled her inner Stevie Nicks and twirled with joyful abandon. And while I’m particularly taken with Lambert as a performer, I’ve come to realize that I’m most drawn to her talents as a songwriter.
Whether the emotive message of hope in the face of adversity she tells in “Bluebird,” [co-written by Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby]; the dark but anticipatively upbeat narrative of an abuse victim plotting to kill her husband upon his release from prison in “Gunpowder & Lead” [co-written by Heather Little]; or “Actin’ Up” [co-written by Luke Dick and Jon Randall] which veers from a swag-filled countrified rap song (in the verses) to the daydreamy wish list of a chorus that contains the lyrics from which both Lambert's residency and her latest album take their names (it's that well-written of a chorus!); it’s the sophistication in the writing, as well as the arranging and production of these songs, that has elevated Lambert to the pantheon of music superstardom in a short enough time to be notable while continuing more than long enough to recognize that she’s gonna be a relevant hitmaker for many years to come.
The setlist from the opening weekend of Miranda Lambert: Velvet Rodeo, the Las Vegas Residency, in the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood (September 23 and 24, 2022), was as follows:
Miranda Lambert: Velvet Rodeo, the Las Vegas Residency
Zappos Theater | Planet Hollywood
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Get into it!