Miranda Lambert dubbed the two discs that make up her 2016 album The Weight of These Wings "The Nerve" and "The Heart." Both elements were on glorious display Saturday night when she brought her Livin' Like Hippies Tour to the Forum in Los Angeles.
The Texas native also made clear to the enthusiastic sold-out crowd that those are just two facets of a larger story, which is part of what makes Lambert so special. While her ownership of the stage made clear that she's a star, the singer-songwriter is neither untouchable diva nor wide-eyed ingénue, but a three-dimensional human being who always expresses that full throttle humanity in her music and performances. Sometimes she's the hero, others the villain. She can be victor and victim, participant and observer, but always a real woman.
As she sang on "All Kinds of Kinds," her genial, sepia-toned waltz-time ode to the beauty of human variety, the reigning CMA Female Vocalist of the Year showed off her various sides in a compact but dynamic 90-minute set.
Following solid warm-up sets from Lucie Silvas – who welcomed husband John Osborne of Brothers Osborne as a surprise guest – and Jon Pardi, Lambert kicked things off with a tip of the cap to one of her idols with a sassy take on John Prine's paean to the rollercoaster of life "That's the Way the World Goes 'Round."
From there she and her nimble backing octet, featuring Gwen Sebastian on backing vocals, alternated foot-stompers like "Gunpowder & Lead" – still packing a mean wallop and prompting a hearty sing-along – with rafter-raising anthems – the soaring "Automatic" – and cheeky midtempo numbers like "We Should Be Friends," which she dedicated to the women in the crowd. When the heat was on, she moved as if an electric current ran through her veins, propelling her around the stage.
But Lambert was often at her best when she was at her most still. The rueful "Vice" began with a stark a cappella open. The gorgeous despair of "Over You" found her eyes welling as a chorus of voices joined hers. And she placed her hand over heart while singing the melancholy "The House That Built Me," diving into the elegiac ballad of a woman hoping to patch the cracks in her foundation by trying to go home again. The gesture was small but telling, and she would repeat it when she welcomed opener Lucie Silvas to the stage for a cover of Aretha Franklin's classic "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man." Lambert warned that the pair had only performed the song once previously so, she said, "If we mess up, love us anyway." They did not and the crowd did, with the song revealing a soulful grit, pushing them in a fresh direction as they effortlessly traded verses and harmonized.
Lambert's only nod to the well-publicized turbulence of her personal life came near the end of the show. "I had a real shit year in 2015," she noted. But the silver lining was clearly on display, as she added that she "wrote some really good country songs" as a result. She then sought, as so many have, to trade her heart for armor, with a poignant, solo acoustic rendition of "Tin Man."
Lambert cranked things back up with a scorching cover of Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way," into which her steel guitarist Spencer Cullum Jr. snuck a snippet of Tupac and Dr. Dre's "California Love" into the opening of his funky talk box solo.
The night's neatest trick may have been "Bathroom Sink," a true gem in Lambert's catalog in which she manages to be deeply pensive over a propulsive groove. There are few who can pull off a balance of flinty fierceness and deep soul ache and Lambert did it, singing the biting lines of self-confrontation "It's amazing the amount of rejection I see in my reflection." And that's Lambert's gift, recognizing that we can all feel like Annie Oakley one minute, wanting to drink and smoke and bullshit with our friends, and the next we can see our flaws in the harshest light as we mull our choices. But it was clear on Saturday night that Lambert is ever closer to being the woman she wants to be.
The Livin' Like Hippies Tour rolls on this week with stops in San Diego and Phoenix. In July, she'll launch a new trek with Little Big Town, dubbed the Bandwagon Tour.