At first glance, Kacey Musgraves appears to want to bring the “western” back into what used to be called country and western music. When the 26-year-old Texas native took the stage at the Maine State Pier on Thursday night, it was hard not to notice her rhinestone cowgirl outfit seemed to fit with her Lone Star State drawl.
Adding to the impression, her five-piece band wore matching suits which would light up like Las Vegas Christmas trees once the sun went down on the early evening show. And the painted-desert backdrop and neon cacti completed the setting. In the end, though, the fast-rising music star offered a fairly diverse 90 minutes of music.
Musgraves featured tunes from her new disc “Pageant Material” as well as some of her earlier hits and a few choice covers.
With the singer advising all to “Mend your own fences and own your own crazy,” the live-and-let-live anthem “Biscuits” was a crowd favorite. Likewise, “Follow Your Arrow,” her ode to being yourself, whether you like kissing boys or kissing girls, engendered an enthusiastic sing-along from the crowd.
Musgraves does favor a traditional instrumental sound, with pedal steel guitar, banjo and upright bass figuring prominently in backing her strong but still sweet vocal style. In her lyrics, she’s less inclined to dwell on the traditional themes for female country singers, favoring a more assertive stance. Many of her well-crafted and witty songs are co-written with like-minded artists such as Brandy Clark, who some may remember as opening for Alan Jackson at the Cross Arena in January.
“Family Is Family” was a humorous take on some of the eccentrics we all have in our family tree while “Late to the Party,” which the singer listed as one of her favorites from the new disc, featured some gentle harmonies to accent the singer’s claim that “I’m never late to the party if I’m late to the party with you.”
“Step Off” suggested a reggae beat and led into a welcome take on Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” “Good Ol’ Boys Club” fixed the singer’s aim on remaining true to herself because, as she noted, being “Another gear in the big machine don’t sound like fun to me.”
The spirited singer also engaged in a bit of square dance style choreography with band members at one point.
With the first of the weekend’s expected tall ships tied up alongside the pier and island ferries arriving and departing, Musgraves acknowledged the beautiful setting and commented that, after a long drive to get here, she had taken a walk and indulged in a lobster roll earlier in the day.
A hard-edged, rocking version of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” capped off an evening with an artist who obviously respects a long musical tradition but also seems intent on updating and expanding it.
Fellow Texan Andrew Combs preceded Musgraves to the stage. His brief set featured a couple of impressive originals, including a roadhouse rocker called “Emily.”
Opening the evening was a Boston-based foursome called Amy & The Engine. South Portland native Amy Allen led the vocals on some engaging light pop tunes marked by sweet harmonies and solid guitar work.
WHAT: Kacey Musgraves with Andrew Combs and Amy & The Engine
WHERE: Maine State Pier, Portland
REVIEWED: July 16