On Thursday, Miranda Lambert showcased her phenomenal junior effort, Revolution, with a song-by-song performance of the full album at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. The following day, she ventured north to Kentucky to co-headline a show with Jason Aldean in decidedly less historic digs: a AAA baseball stadium. Lambert took the stage shortly after a frankly awful set by Love and Theft, a trio noteworthy only for including Stephen Barker Liles, the subject of Taylor Swift’s “Hey Stephen,” and for trying to market themselves as a country act despite sounding exactly like BBMak.
Lambert quickly made up for the lackluster start to the evening, tearing through “Only Prettier,” which should have been one of the first singles off Revolution, and “Guilty in Here,” which should have been pushed as a fifth single from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The sold-out audience, most of whom were in attendance to see Aldean, made it clear that Lambert needs the support of country radio if she’s ever going to become a household name. Though all of her songs were well received by the crowd, not many people were singing along with “New Strings” and “More Like Her,” both of which peaked outside the Top 20 at country radio. She has greatly improved in her ability to connect with a large crowd since I saw her last summer, and she had the crowd firmly under her sway when they actually knew her material. The problem was that the audience was far more familiar with her choices of cover songs—CCR’s “Travelin’ Band” and a surprisingly deft, forceful rendition of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll”—than with her originals.
The addition of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” seemed like a last-minute and smart-assed addition to the set list, since the sky opened up about halfway through her performance. That no one left during the deluge spoke volumes about Lambert’s command of the audience and resulted in an uncomfortable display of soaked denim, gingham, and WWE T-shirts. Even during a downpour, though, Lambert powered through fiery versions of “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder and Lead,” both of which the crowd knew well. The hardest cuts from her first two albums, those two singles take on even more of a rock edge during Lambert’s live shows. Even songs like “Famous in a Small Town” and “New Strings” have been reworked to sound punchier, and, having seen Coldplay live, it’s striking how much the instrumental coda on “Dead Flowers” sounds like their “Yellow” in its live arrangement.
But what this performance reaffirmed is that Lambert has the goods to make it as a rock star. She has the persona down, and there’s no faulting the quality of her performances. Her underrated voice impresses as much for its pitch-perfect clarity as for its power and range of expression, and her touring band continues to evolve into a tight, focused unit that knows how to show off without pulling focus from their frontwoman. Given the crowd’s reaction to songs like “Only Prettier,” the vindictive “Sin for a Sin,” and terrific Fred Eaglesmith cover “Time to Get a Gun,” it’s clear that Revolution has the material to break Lambert to a wider audience. But it’s imperative that Sony figures out how to choose her singles more wisely in order to get radio on board so that Lambert’s commercial impact can catch up to her artistic clout and stage presence.