Miranda Lambert gave a live preview of her upcoming Wildcard album to a few hundred lucky industry pros Monday night (September 23), taking over Nashville’s historic Exit/In venue and playing many of the songs in public for the first time.
From fiery rockers to songbird sophistication, the night served as the jumping off point for her just-started Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour — which if last night was any indication, seems primed as one of this fall’s most fulfilling country experiences. It’s a rare treat to see a superstar like Lambert in a small-club setting, for sure, and her hour-long set was outstanding. But perhaps more exciting was the fact that the warm-up gig seemed to show her feeling reinvigorated, both creatively and personally.
Here are five things we loved about Miranda Lambert’s Exit/In gig:
Power chords — Lambert enlisted a new producer to help her flesh out the Wildcard sound, saying she was looking for the energy and heart of her first record and “needed to be open and pushed.” She admitted much of the new material has a distinct rock ‘n’ roll flavor — think the hard charging “Locomotive,” the Southern stomp of album opener “White Trash” or the ’80s rock vibes of “Mess With My Head” — but after the record was finished, she had an epiphany. She and husband Brendan McLoughlin were listening to it and, “‘Kerosene’ started playing right after. It was like, ‘[Wildcard] is not a departure at all. I’m just back, bitches!'”
Texas Twang — That’s not to say Lambert’s letting her country roots dry up. Wildcard includes some truly twangy standouts, delivered in strutting East Texas fashion, of course. The windblown desert atmosphere found on “Bluebird” was the perfect pick-me-up for when your soul feels just as desolate, while “Tequila Does” — Lambert’s favorite on the project — mixed a woozy waltz with two-stepping thrills. Plus, her 10-piece band features dedicated acoustic guitarists and a pedal steel player, so you can bet on a “country” show out on the road.
The Stories — Lambert spent much of the night explaining where her new tunes came from, and even though she claims it makes her nervous, many added color to the already vibrant songs. From the “little flutter” she feels every time she sings “Bluebird” to the way “Tequila Does” transports her back to Gruene Hall, each was uniquely personal since Lambert co-wrote all of Wildcard’s songs. Talking about the “swampy as hell” “Holy Water,” she recalled Brent Cobb and friends turning up for their scheduled writing session drunk and more than three hours late, then having to push their broken down truck into Lambert’s lawn when it was time to finally leave.
The Truth — “The truth makes me sweat,” Lambert said at the end of “Track Record,” a grooving anthem dedicated to those saddled with a “reputation,” so to speak. All about Lambert’s misadventures in love and set free by the sunrise feel of a new romance on the horizon, it was just one of many moments that felt so raw Lambert had to fan herself off. “Holy Water” touched on everything from religion to politics to climate change, a gospel rocker where the little guy loses every time. And by absolutely crushing the confessional “Dark Bars” in solo acoustic style, Lambert’s honest love of her troubadour life came through. She had to practice “Dark Bars” before the show, she explained, and when she opened up the guitar case, “It smelled like beer and cigarettes, and it made me so happy. This is what I love.”
The Fun — Lambert describes her previous album, The Weight of These Wings, as a “songwriter’s record,” and as such it was much more introspective. The writing was deep and consequential, but Lambert is in a different headspace now. Happily married and feeling reinvigorated by the songs, she was clearly having a good time onstage. Tracks like “White Trash,” “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” “Pretty Bitchin’,” and “It All Comes Out in the Wash” had her smiling and sharing laughs with her bandmates, a loose atmosphere which makes the audience feel like a part of something special. It didn’t seem staged, so anybody who’s about to see Lambert live in the next seven months of touring is in for a treat. She’ll be 36 this year and still feels like she’s “just getting started,” sharing “I’m glad to be in a bar with drink in my hand, playing for people who love music. I’m glad to be sharing it with the world, getting that energy out there.”
Lambert’s Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars Tour continues September 26 in Baltimore, Maryland, with Maren Morris, Elle King, Pistol Annies, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes and Caylee Hammack on select dates. Her Wildcard album arrives November 1.