What makes a truly spectacular concert? There are several shared traits that all great performances share. Personality, stage presence, audience engagement, authenticity, passion, pacing, a centerpiece song, emotional catharsis. If an artist can hit four or five of these eight characteristics in concert it will be a stellar show.
But when someone can reach all eight of these that is when a concert becomes truly memorable. Obviously there are varying degrees of each of these marks. The truly legendary performers — Bruce Springsteen, Prince, U2, Patti Smith, Dolly Parton, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder — achieve almost all at the highest level after years of perfecting these skills.
But seeing newer artists achieve each of these goals and knowing they are on their way to live greatness is an incredibly rewarding thing as a music lover. Just as Harry Styles did that on his recent tour, Kacey Musgraves hit all eight with skill, joy and, most importantly, the calm cool of LeBron James nailing a game winner to win game seven of the NBA finals, during her sold out show at L.A.s Crypto.com arena.
You want to talk poise? Musgraves owned the building, commanding the stage as if she had been born with 18,000 fans chanting her name as she came out of the womb. But, most impressively, her control of the stage was never arrogant. While it was clear she believed she should be up there she also seemed genuinely moved when during her first break, after a superb “Cherry Blossom,” the crowd screamed rapturously for her at least a full two minutes.
Showing that winning personality she laughed as she said, “Are you all on drugs? I didn’t even do s**t. I just stood up here and you all gave me a standing O.” It would be the first of many in the love-fest between Musgraves and her adoring audience.
From the opening “Star-Crossed,” which found the singer making a star entrance after her whole band was onstage, Musgraves continually displayed her commanding stage presence. Following the title track of last year’s Star-Crossed Musgraves went into the new album’s “Good Wife,” another somber moment.
Musgraves addressed that during her post “Cherry Blossom” monologue though, thanking fans for coming on her journey, even if, as she put it, “The new album is so depressing it should’ve come with a trigger warning.”
But showing her expert pacing, one of the most difficult skills to learn, thus making it a true mark of a superior performer, she bounded between tempos and grooves. For example, she followed the new album’s more upbeat “Simple Times” and “Breadwinner” with a stunning rendition of “Golden Hour,” which checked off the centerpiece song needed for a great show.
The brilliance of “Golden Hour,” which led into an equally gorgeous “Butterflies,” and then later, the sublime “Merry Go Round” and. in the first encore slot, “Slow Burn,” was Musgraves at her finest. And as a result if there was one complaint with the show, it was that the overblown confetti and lighted bracelets that have become the pop show cliche equivalent to rock shows’ drum solos and “Hello, Cleveland” (if you know you know) weren’t necessary.
Musgraves is such a commanding presence onstage she doesn’t need the bells and whistles. In fact watching “Golden Hour” one couldn’t help but wish for her to do a solo acoustic tour down the line.
That’s not to say moments like “There Is A Light,” the magnificent “Lonely Weekend” and her joyous cover of Parton’s “9 to 5,” during the brilliantly titled “Kacey-oke,” segment weren’t exceptional in their own right. They were. And it was the combination of the two worlds that made the show so special.
The truly great live performers take you on a complete journey, which Musgraves absolutely did, delivering a remarkable 90 minutes that, when it was done, had crossed off every checkmark needed for a night you won’t soon forget.