By Dan Cava
September 21, 2019
Oh, what a year it’s been for Kacey Musgraves. The 31-year-old Texas-born singer-songwriter has been a critical darling since her major label debut in 2013, with her crystalline voice, her effortless mezzo soprano melodies, and her gently progressive themes. Musgraves’ music has always had a genius for deceptive simplicity, and her lyrics have the pithy everyday poetry and arch humor that most country musicians aspire to but so few achieve. Even with three well-received albums (including one Christmas collection) under her belt, 2018’s Golden Hour represented a startling new plateau, an airtight thirteen-song country pop opus packed start to finish with mid-tempo masterpieces. Admiring critics reached fever pitch, and within a year “Spacey Kacey” was holding a 2019 Grammy for Album of the Year. Having already toured the album once, Musgraves seized hold of her Grammy momentum and added a massive second leg to her Oh, What A World Tour.
Thursday night, Charlotte concert-goers showed up early to witness an artist at a peak in her young powers. Traffic seemed unusually dense around the Music Factory before the show, and opening band Weyes Blood benefitted from a particularly packed and primed amphitheatre crowd. Weyes Blood’s singer Natalie Laura Mering cruised expertly through an airy, low-key 45-minute set: the kind of music where the band members mostly stand still because the music itself is doing all the swirling. Mering’s low voice and spacious arrangements provided a nice counterpoint to the tighter, higher sonic space that Musgraves would present later on. Weyes Blood’s final song, “Movies,” was one of their best, ending act one of the evening with a tidal wave of synth.
At around 9:30 p.m., after what felt like an unusually long wait between sets, Kacey Musgraves’ band opened the main event with the opener of Golden Hour, the plaintive and inviting “Slow Burn.” Simply lit and surrounded by an all-male team of musicians in dark suits, Musgraves appeared wearing an angular yellow parade coat, a black bodysuit, and an acoustic guitar. At the second verse of “Slow Burn,” both the rhythm section and the stage’s lighting jumped to life. The band slipped easily into “Wonder Woman,” and we were off into one of the most satisfying headlining sets in recent memory.
For an artist with only six years in the mainstream, Musgraves’ setlist was surprisingly free of filler songs, thanks to its heavy reliance on Golden Hour, a filler-free album. Still, even with the immaculate song choices, the evening’s magnetism came from Musgraves’ talent for straddling star-level presence and real person approachability. The first two songs went by smoothly enough, but after “Wonder Woman,” Musgraves had to stall for time while the crew fixed an on-stage audio issue. Rather than stammer over the break in routine, Musgraves turned the delay into a bonding experience between her and the audience. The inconvenience seemed to bring forward the cheerfully tart persona hinted at in her music. “What a beautiful fucking night,” she beamed. “I want everyone in here to put two middle fingers in the air, and say ‘fuck it!’ to whatever’s on your nerves, because it’s not in here.” If she wasn’t gonna be thrown off her game, why should we be?
A few songs later during “Lonely Weekend,” glowing spheres near the ceiling began to descend and ascend, their color and height changing to suit the moods represented by the songs. A mesh screen appeared overhead during “Happy & Sad,” projecting a smiley face with a single tear, the perfect match for the song’s tribute to the melancholy of momentary joy. Before “Mother,” Musgraves removed her yellow jacket, a subtle shift toward the song’s bareness and intimacy. Later on, digital storm clouds gently rumbled during “Rainbow,” then resolved into a simple thin arc of moving color. The stage design had the subtlety and clarity of Musgraves’ music, a perfect match of sight and sound.
A lot of fun came from seeing the slightly naughty undertone of some of her recorded music brought a little closer to the surface in real life. Her songs are squeaky clean by some measures, but Musgraves peppered the evening with spice: F-bombs aplenty between songs, and a did-she-really-say-that substitution of the words “golden showers” at the end of the otherwise innocent “Golden Hour.” When a large brassiere sailed from somewhere in the crowd onto the stage, Musgraves gamely swung it over her head before launching it back into the audience. “Not my size,” she joked, moments before a notably smaller bra sailed in. She laughed and tossed that one back, too, joking that bras are too expensive to be throwing away like that.
Musgraves gave Charlotte more than the usual amount of city love. Alongside the typical complements of the crowd (“y’all know all the words!”) and the late summer weather, she spoke glowingly of the time off she’d spent in the city, shouting out the Queen City’s fashion retail (“I bought a dress”), great food and drinks, even namechecking Soul Gastrolounge, where she’d gone for dinner the day before. During the marijuana ode “High Life,” Musgraves saluted the aromatics provided by the audience in the pit. “Y’all got it smelling good in here.”
The spine of it all, of course, was one killer song performance after another. Musgraves and her band were simply fantastic, having obviously built enormous musical and personal chemistry over the long tour. A mid-show example of their camaraderie was an acoustic set near the front of the stage, with beautifully stripped down versions of “Oh, What A World,” “Family is Family,” and “Love is a Wild Thing.” Musgraves took her time between songs to introduce each member of the band. Normally this part of the show feels pleasant but perfunctory, yet Musgraves took her time, joking with each of them, even presenting the bass player with a bunch of golden balloons for his birthday. After breaking back into electric mode, a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” showed the band, the artist, and the audience all in perfect sync.
In a final stroke of genius, Musgraves bucked concert convention by allowing the evening’s last treat, the disco-tinged “High Horse,” to truly be the night’s one and only ending. Against the multi-encore norms of many headliners, the show’s straightforward conclusion somehow felt radical, with the same directness of vision that has elevated Musgraves above her peers since Golden Hour’s appearance a year ago. At just after 11 p.m., Kacey Musgraves left the amphitheatre stage as masterfully as she had entered it ninety minutes earlier, the perfect ending to a perfect night.
Check out the remaining 2019 tour dates for Kacey Musgraves.