Crazy fun with a Texas drawl highlighted the second night of Little Big Town’s The Breakers Tour, on February 9, at Austin’s Irwin Center on the University of Texas campus. Joining LBT on the tour, which promotes their new album, The Breaker, are iconoclastic songstress Kasey Musgraves and up-and-comers, Midland. The concert featured unusual staging and surprises for the crowd.
The Erwin Center is where UT plays basketball, so I wasn’t expecting any elaborate staging. I received a pleasant surprise.
At one end of stadium was a classic stage setup. At the other end, a smaller circular stage was tucked in. The circular stage revolved. This gave the artists a chance to get closer to the audience and gave everyone in the stadium a chance to see their favorites up close (and from every angle). The first surprise for the crowd came when Midland opened on the circular stage. All the people in the floor seats found themselves with their backs to the music. Hey, who wants to spend a whole concert sitting down?
Best-known for their hit “Drinkin’ Problem,” Midland opened the concert and performed their entire set on the rotating stage.
They mentioned how happy they were to be back home in Austin. “We weren’t born here,” admitted lead singer Mark Wystrach, “but we got here as soon as we could.” That was probably not difficult, as the three friends who originated in distant points of the USA formed the band in Dripping Springs, Texas, about a half-hour west of the Texas capital.
Of the three performances, Midland had the most traditional country sound – appropriately, as their name was inspired by Dwight Yoakum’s song “Fair to Midland.” Like most country groups today, they are “a little bit rock and roll,” but their aim is to create vivid pictures in the mind of listeners, like their idols, The Eagles. They succeeded in giving the concert a great kick-off.
After Midland, the folks in the expensive floor seats got to sit down and face the main stage. What they saw was an elaborate staging, featuring reds and whites, with separate podiums for a drummer, three guitarists, and two keyboard players. I was reminded of an elegant setting from a 1930s movie musical. That’s quite a backup crew for Musgraves but it was worth it, as the music was stunning.
Musgraves surprised me with her outfit. I had seen her perform at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in a cowgirl-kitsch getup. At this concert she wore a long red gown/pantsuit as elegant as the staging.
Musgraves, from Golden, Texas, near Dallas, gave an amazing performance. Her voice, complemented by the keyboardists, rings like beautiful chimes. She gave most of her performance from the main stage but ventured out to the revolving platform for a few songs, to the delight of her fans. She got her biggest responses with hits “Follow Your Arrow” and “Merry Go ‘Round.”
Little Big Town
Musgraves ended her segment with a glitter bomb exploding from the ceiling. When Little Big Town – Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild, and Phillip Sweet – arrived on the stage: Boom! It was smoke, rock concert lighting, and giant-screen video backgrounds.
The amazing thing about Little Big Town performances is the incredible range of the group, musically, stylistically, and thematically.
Most of their songs rely on their great vocal harmony. But in almost every song, one or two members of the group sing a lead, giving them a variety of sounds. Fairchild was particularly good that night in bringing haunting, emotive meaning to songs like “A Better Man.”
Their song selections demonstrated the group’s ability to master a range of styles. They opened, to my surprise, with Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Venturing on to the small stage, they offered a tribute to Glen Campbell with “Wichita Lineman.” Their own work includes touching ballads and raucous rock anthems.
Themes range from songs about broken hearts to crazy partying. On the circular stage, Fairchild performed the edgy, unrequited love song, “Girl Crush.” Performed on the main stage, “Little White Church” argues for the importance of marriage. “With the Band” is about self-actualization and “Tornado” glorifies revenge, while “Pontoon” is a call to have a good time.
Speaking of having a good time, while Little Big Town sang “Day Drinking,” the crowd got its second big surprise. Midland returned to the arena floor carrying cases of Coors, then handed them out to the audience but saved a few for their arrival on stage next to LBT. Some beers were consumed, while others were sprayed over the bands and the audience.
So, did I have a good time? Absolutely, although, I wanted to hear more of Kimberly Schlapman ‘cause she’s my favorite, and she can cook. The Breakers Tour continues through May. For dates and info about other performances, including an upcoming summer tour with Miranda Lambert, check the Little Big Town website.