Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley (see the full slideshow.)
Desert Sky Pavilion
May 16, 2013
For me, the night the Desert Sky Pavilion (or whatever else it's called from year to year) opens its gates for the first show of the season marks the beginning of summer. And the 2013 summer concert season kicked off with some red-blooded American country music -- Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley's Locked and Reloaded tour.
As I approached the pavilion, a man was lounging in a lawn chair that sat on the roof of his car, blasting country music with the doors open, chanting and chugging beer and offering his own unique rebellion against parking lot security.
Inside, the crowd was almost as enthusiastic.
Concertgoers buzzed around the vendors and openly bitched about the $10 beer; one patron shouted to his buddies across the crowd that he'd found Bud Light for $9.50, and people swarmed.
Joanna Smith kicked off the show, welcoming the crowd in front of the stage with her bubbly personality. She was maybe a bit too enthusiastic as she skipped around waving and singing. Although she did sing one lyric that caught my attention: "Put your worries in a blender / There's nothing wrong with a Tuesday night bender." I could not agree more, Joanna.
Randy Houser was next and provided the soundtrack for the setting sun. He stormed on stage while "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC rumbled through the audience until transitioning smoothly into the party anthem "Whistlin' Dixie." The most striking character on stage during Houser's set was a guitarist who paraded around behind sunglasses, wearing a Mad Hatter top hat (complete with feather) and a frayed leather jacket. People began moving and dancing during Houser's set, which was the most rock 'n' roll-driven show of the night.
By the time Dierks Bentley took the stage, the pavilion had filled up. A high level of energy coursed through the crowd as Bentley bounced on stage in his hometown of Phoenix and brought the audience to their feet. Girls began popping up on the shoulders of the men they were with, which Bentley applauded. The band plays together tightly and it appeared as if they feed off each other's musical prowess to bring such a high energy. The vocals were crisp and clear as Bentley fired off a greatest hits compilation.
During his performance, Bentley pulled a young girl on stage from the crowd and cheered her on as she held his unplugged guitar and acted out a solo. Once she was off stage, the band carried on and showcased their talents as the members started picking banjos and shredding fiddle solos. The bassist even stood back to play a cello while Bentley introduced them as local boys.
To keep the vibe alive between shows, a small group out of Nashville called Jukebox Mafia stood on stage and played hip-hop/country remixes of various songs from "Pony" by Ginuwine to "Mama Tried" by Merle Haggard.
Then the lights went down, and it was time for Miranda Lambert. The video screens on either side of the stage lit up with a montage of "girl power" propaganda video clips while Beyonce's "Who Run the World (Girls)" boomed over the speakers. I thought that was an odd song choice to start this show, but it appeared to work for the audience. The curtain fell to reveal Miranda Lambert standing in the center of the stage wearing a sparkling gold skirt and country glamour boots. She broke into "Fastest Girl in Town" and strutted around the stage.
Dierks Bentley has a band. He doesn't act like a solo act, and they work together musically to achieve a superior sound. With Miranda Lambert, it's just her; the backing musicians are irrelevant other than to carry a tune. Lambert has a cocky, badass attitude that even shows in the way she walks. She controls the stage and the crowd.
If there is one thing I learned from my hour-and-a-half with Miranda Lambert it's that she's a force to be reckoned with -- and that, as a man, I do not want to ever piss her off. Hell hath no fury like a 5-foot-3 time bomb of sass with thick blond curls and a Southern drawl. She drinks, she smokes, she doesn't take any shit, and she goes on stage with one intention: to kick some ass. She has no qualms about letting everyone know it.
"I still shop at Walmart, eat chicken-fried steak, and drink Bud Light," she said during a thank you to all of her fans, in the process of encouraging them to follow their dreams.
Lambert knows how to entertain. She kept a satisfying pace throughout her performance, starting off fast and then settling into the more heartfelt tunes before picking it up again toward the end. About two-thirds of the way through the set, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley seemingly appeared out of thin air next to Miranda Lambert and the three women delivered back-to-back songs from their group, Pistol Annies.
As quickly as the two women came, they disappeared, and it was Miranda's stage once again.
"Maybe you don't take 'redneck' as a compliment, but I sure mean it as one," she said, before telling the crowd how her shotgun-shooting skills and men mix together. Any apprehension left in the crowd was unloaded like the shotgun Lambert sings about when she dove into the song "Gunpowder & Lead" as everybody shouted and screamed the lyrics.
The encore was unimpressive and short-lived as Lambert re-emerged to sing one more song -- the real closer was that raucous performance of "Gunpowder & Lead."
Dierks Bentley: Am I the Only One Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go) 5-1-5-0 Every Mile a Memory Lot of Leavin' Left to Do Feel That Fire Tip it on Back Up on the Ridge Settle for a Slowdown Come a Little Closer What Was I Thinkin' Sideways Home
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Miranda Lambert: Fastest Girl in Town Only Prettier That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round Heart Like Mine New Strings Baggage Claim Travelin' Band Mamma's Broken Heart Over You Famous in a Small Town Get Back All Kinds of Kinds Hell on Heels Hush, Hush Kerosene The House That Built Me Gunpowder & Lead White Liar
Critics Notebook: Last Night: Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley at Desert Sky Pavilion The Crowd: An even mixture of the young and old, and a lot of sun-kissed girls in Daisy Dukes leading their boyfriends around by the hand. Also: An abundance of denim shirts, camouflage, cowboy hats, and shit-kicking boots of various sizes and colors. Overheard in the Crowd: When Miranda Lambert was building up the guitar intro to "Gunpowder & Lead," a girl directly in front of me told her boyfriend, "this is my song for you!" She then laughed hysterically and proceeded to sing every word with a big smile on her face while turned toward him. I hope I didn't just witness the prelude to Jodi Arias part II (too soon?). Personal Bias: The parking lot had a lot of lifted 4x4 pickup trucks. Being from the country myself, I can usually spot the imposter trucks that, like their owners, have only lived the big-city life and sadly never taken their tires off the smooth pavement.