Reality check: Lambert complete package at 22

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune
Published April 3, 2006


With the certified gold album "Kerosene" under her studded belt, Miranda Lambert already has shown country music fans she sounds good in the studio. But how does she fare onstage?

Very, very well. It's only been a few years since Lambert placed third in the 2003 reality television series, "Nashville Star." But on Friday night at Joe's Bar on Chicago's North Side, Lambert belted out a two-hour set like she's been doing it for decades. Thing is, she's only 22.

Some of her road savvy may come from opening for Keith Urban in 2005 and George Strait in 2006. But it's one thing to sing to empty chairs, and quite another to have a sold-out crowd of 1,000 all to yourself. Clearly, Lambert was born to perform. Even her mother said, "You'll see. This is one bad-ass show."

And it certainly was. Lambert opened with her rousing "What About Georgia" and had the audience screaming along from the first verse. But the fans really let go when Lambert asked security to remove the barricades in front of the stage so everyone could get closer.

Fans got close enough to see Lambert's acoustic guitar with Merle Haggard's autograph scrawled across the front. At one point, she asked the crowd "How y'all feel about Merle Haggard?" Which led her right into a cover of Haggard's "Mama Tried."

Eleven of the songs on Lambert's debut album were written or co-written by her. Yet she devoted half her show to other cover songs. From John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" to The Band's "Up on Cripple Creek," she revealed that her voice can be just as potent when she's doing someone else's work.

After a string of wistful ballads such as "Love's Looking for You" and "Love Your Memory," Lambert launched into her feisty "I Can't be Bothered." That got to the standing-room-only audience, a sea of cowboy hats and camera phones, swaying shoulders and tapping toes.

Even without fiddles or banjos, Lambert's band managed to come up with a genuine country sound. She introduced them as "the rock stars up here who've got my back."

Lambert wrapped the show with her hit single "Kerosene," a blistering warning to any man who has ever done her wrong. It exposes a bit of a chip on Lambert's shoulder. Even if it is a manufactured tough-girl attitude, though, the world could use another redneck woman.

Lambert said it herself. "There are a million blond chicks who can sing." But this concert gave Chicago a glimpse of what makes her destined for A-list status: that rare blend of lyrical genius, flawless studio vocals and a live show that nobody wants to see end.

Copyright 2006, Chicago Tribune