Back in 2014 Kacey Musgraves’ debut record Same Trailer Different Park won the Grammy for Best Country Album. The UK stretch of the tour that accompanied this release magnified the country stereotype to a crowd only just picking up on the genre’s qualities thanks in part to the soapy drama Nashville. A neon and cacti-themed stage and rhinestone cowboy boots adorned with flashing LEDs were the order of the day therefore, but stereotype or not, the Texan proved to be a real star and the young crowd that evening in Manchester lapped it up; there was just the right amount of cynicism wrapped up in the glamour. Four years on, Kacey Musgraves has evolved; her third album Golden Hour has been touted as one of the best of the year, but the country edge has been blunted somewhat, replaced instead by a pop sensibility geared to traverse an audience bridge in the same way contemporaries like Taylor Swift have achieved. It therefore makes sense that the rhinestones and cacti have been ditched. The neon has been replaced by pastel colours and huge examples of the new album’s hand-held fans reinforce the focus of the evening.
All thirteen of Golden Hour’s tracks are performed in Nottingham’s Theatre Royal. Unlike the more predictable ‘album in full’ style of show, which simply presents a release in its chronological order, Musgraves doctors the running order, allowing timely reminders of the surging qualities of the records that preceded the new one to take centre stage as well. The gentle acoustic tones of ‘Slow Burn’ open the evening, disturbing the impromptu boogie in the circle that has been encouraged by The Bee Gees over the PA. Kacey Musgraves steps up to a raised platform with guitar in hand, dramatically appearing as a silhouette, flanked by her substantial band before stepping in to the spotlight for the smooth, silky ‘Wonder Woman’ that actually has more in common with The Bee Gees that preceded it than the country styles of her first two records.
After briefly acknowledging the seated audience we’re treated to a faultless rendition of ‘Butterflies’. The track has a gorgeous lullaby quality, a sweet but not saccharine tale about the blossoming relationship between Musgraves and her husband Ruston Kelly. It’s musically subtle and uncomplicated; the real pleasure comes from the delicious vocals that soar one moment and caress the next. It isn’t until the next track that we’re reminded of Kacey Musgraves’ flair for writing lyrics that her audience truly identify with. Or at least the majority of them. As she sings ‘I keep lookin’ at my phone, putting it back down, there’s a little part of me that’s got the fear of missin’ out’ the irony is lost on a truly tragic couple who miss the entire show, preferring to take umpteen selfies instead of experiencing a true American talent at the peak of her powers. Perhaps this is the price to be paid for success. Has her star risen to such an extent that is it more important to have evidence that you went to a Kacey Musgraves concert instead of truly experiencing it?
We’re treated to a brief Same Trailer Different Park interlude with the gentle ‘Keep it to Yourself’ and the iconic ‘Merry-Go Round’. She introduces the latter as an ode to her small hometown in Texas with it’s population of a five hundred, adding that she’s probably related to most of them. The black humour is also a feature of the song, but it has undergone a bit of a subtle shift sonically; there’s a more sombre cadence to the lyrics and Musgraves later acknowledges concern with the state of her country and the world in general that has perhaps tarnished the cynicism to a degree, replacing it perhaps with a degree of sentimentalism. The moment is fleeting however, as Pageant Material’s ‘High Time’ allows some of the jaunty, country tones to return before this album’s darkly delicious ‘Die Fun’ adds another dimension to the evening.
As we touch upon the darker cynicism of previous releases throughout the show, it is Golden Hour which remains the anchor we keep returning to and after these more stripped down versions of older songs, we get polished versions from the new record including the wonderfully smooth ‘Love is a Wild Thing’ which is enhanced by slick synths and evocative slide guitar. This song marks a turning point for the evening though as ‘Velvet Elvis’ provides a bit of glitzy glamour to proceedings before we’re beckoned to our feet for signature tune ‘Follow Your Arrow’ which features an impromptu chorus from the Nottingham crowd that have finally found their voice.
The crowd remain standing for the encore that follows, adding the dynamism that was so prevalent that night in Manchester four years ago and final number ‘High Horse’ is a disco thoroughbred that gets folk finally dancing. Although fan faves such as cool barroom rocker ‘Blowin’ Smoke’ and the melancholy ‘Back on the Map’ are absent, the evening is a sparkling success with an energy that was perhaps not suited to the seated venue. Perhaps that’s the inevitable impact of creating a boundary-breaking album that will be on many end-of-year lists, believe me!