Live Review: Miranda Lambert Brings Firebrand Country To South Florida
iThink Amphitheater, West Palm Beach, Fla.
May 14, 2022
As the first snaking guitar line of “Acting Up” slid into the darkness of a way-too-humid South Florida night, Miranda Lambert had the crowd at iThink Financial Amphitheater churning. Her firebrand kind of country, unrepentant, blazing and attitudinal, was a siren’s call to the sweaty throng.
In a world where — for women in country music — the struggle is real, the recently crowned Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year strode onstage with a wicked smile. Hypnotically intoning, “Mirror mirror on the saddle, hear my rhinestones rattle, actin’ up/ Billy Bob’s Texas, pickin’ out new exes, actin up…,” the crowd lost its mind for the opening track of Palomino, her recently released studio album.
While new music often turns off when an artist’s almost two decades into a career, the voracious response to Lambert’s wry mission statement for throwing down and having a world class time straight-punched holes in that theory.
Indeed, Lambert’s colonized a space in today’s fraught world of feisty free-spiritedness, something women are often raised to shun. Swinging into the house-burning “Kerosene,” the raging truth-in-advertising “Fastest Girl in Town,” the loosely strumming truth of “Heart Like Mine” and plucky send-up “Only Prettier,” it was a four-song declaration of independence and self that defines those women who don’t care about brokered beauty norms, fairy tales that aren’t real or getting along to go along.
Not quite a tempest, but absolutely a robust expression of why freedom is essential and fun is everything.
Gearing down to the spare “Vice,” she showed nuance is also a weapon that can slice a crowd open. The all-ages, all-genders, LGBTQA+ friendly mass swooned and swayed along to a song about being a slave to dark bars, lost nights, morning afters, neon, cigarettes and jukeboxes.
If the awards-sweeping “House That Built Me” and yearning for more engaged living of “Automatic” offered an oasis to who we all were before technology swept living into overdrive, the catch in the Grammy-winning songwriter’s voice bore witness to the richness of life in slower times. Serious without preaching, she created a powerful reflection.
And then Lambert was back casting her good-time philosophy on an audience that pressed forward in the pit and remained standing under the pavilion. Whether a mariachi-leaning “Tequila Does,” a spin the trouble “Bluebird” or the flirty “If I Was A Cowboy,” the band was dexterous, building to a jackhammered take on John Prine’s “That’s The Way The World Goes Round” that was as punk rock as it was honky tonk.
Climaxing with a 1, 2 punch of “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Gunpowder & Lead,” Lambert rocked as hard as anybody in any genre. With a seething rebuke to those who’d batter or marginalize, she threw down.
Fourteen songs, a few chatty lines, but being the “Bandwagon Tour,” she was just getting started. After standing alone with just a piano and delivering a heartbroken “Tin Man,” the final note extended, a chord opened up and Little Big Town’s harmonies swelled into a wash of heavenly grace. The lights raised to reveal both bands in place, ready to deliver a nine-song collaborative “best of” mini-set.
Whether LBT’s luxurious “Better Man” or funky “Boon Docks” or Lambert’s naughty “White Liar” or thrashing “Little Red Wagon,” verses were swapped, jamming happened and laughter ensued. To see two groups engage with such unfettered joy is to understand the power of garage bands and growing up chasing the night.
For Lambert, full-tilt and raucous, Little Big Town offered an even fuller palette to paint with. For Little Big Town, the rowdy groundswell of Lambert’s stage gave Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Philip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook permission to loosen up and let it fly. The result was effervescent, harmony-coated, even exuberant.
By the time they got to Lambert and Elle King’s recent No. 1 “Drunk and I Don’t Wanna Go Home,” the night was wrung out. They gave as good as the West Palm Beach crowd got; leaving the stage, the crowd cheered for a full minute, shrieking after another long week.
Returning for an encore, Lambert delivered a tender tribute to Naomi Judd with “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Ole Days).” A fitting closer, as the mother/daughter Judds pioneered the same high-spirited feminine, make-your-own-way truth that’s been Lambert’s bedrock since arriving as a young woman from Texas determined to make music on her terms.