There's nothing fancy about Denver's massive honky-tonk, where the mechanical bull looms in the back and the beer-swilling buckaroos line up 10 deep at the front of the wraparound bar undoubtedly built to impress the biggest of Texas-sized thinkers. It's like you just woke up from a drunken stupor only to realize this is Gilley's straight out of 1980's Urban Cowboy.
So what better place than this yee-haw dancehall (more like a barn on steroids) for an Outlaw Country Cowgirl like Lambert to appear with her "Don't Mess With Texas - Or Me" spirit, a powerful collection of hit-worthy tunes and a crackerjack five-piece band that sounded louder than a series of shotgun blasts.
Lambert was winding up the 2009 leg of a tour to promote her third - and most recent - album, Revolution (Sony Music Nashville), and seemed determined to take no prisoners during this Rebel Yell Rebellion on December 9.
Playing nearly straight through, with only the briefest of interruptions for a gulp of water or a fast-talking song intro, Lambert burst through 22 numbers in 90 minutes, then came back for a three-song encore.
The revolutionary pre-show scene was set to the recorded sounds of Tracy Chapman ("Talkin' Bout a Revolution"), The Beatles (the slow version of "Revolution") and Steve Earle ("The Revolution Starts Now") as the packed house filled the 2,500 square foot hardwood dance floor usually reserved for cardio-pumping line dancers.
Shortly after 10 o'clock, Lambert started fast and furious, setting the stage ablaze with "Kerosene," the rowdy title cut off her 2005 debut. The jacked-up and alcohol-fueled crowd needed no prompting to shout out the definitive words - "I'm giving up on love cause love's given up on me" - to the done-me-wrong song.
The prolific songwriter, who performed three more songs from Kerosene and nine of the 15 cuts off Revolution, most of which she wrote or co-wrote, also included a handful of selections from her second album, 2007's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. While that title track didn't make the cut, much to dismay of many in the estrogen-filled room, Lambert did get a rise out of all the single ladies by asking, "Are there any bad girls in the house tonight?" before tearing into "Guilty In Here."
Yet the former Nashville Star finalist manages to transcend the country label - and all the excess baggage that comes with it - and has the crossover set list to prove it. While several more of her own songs - "White Liar," propelled by Scotty Wray's lap steel, "Bring Me Down" and "Dead Flowers" (which earned her a third Grammy nomination) - were favorites among the dedicated group of followers known as "Ran Fans," Lambert strayed from her own material during the second half of her set.
Rollicking versions of the Faces' "Stay With Me," Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band" and Joan Jett's "I Love Rock N' Roll" were testaments to Lambert's musical range, taste and appreciation. That shouldn't be surprising, considering Lambert listens to the Rolling Stones, Allison Moorer and Ryan Adams on the tour bus, even if she does follow Katy Perry on Twitter.
While Lambert stuck mostly to the acoustic guitar, she showcased the talents of dazzling lead guitarist Alex Weeden, keyboardist Chris Kline, drummer Keith Zebroski and bassist Aden Bubeck, whose monstrous Mohawk stood out more than a trendy trying to sip Chardonnay during a round of whiskey shots at this watering hole.
Miranda Lambert gets ready for her close-up, left, and joins guitarist Scotty Wray for "Not Fade Away" during a three-song encore.
Then there was Wray, the band's big daddy and the only remaining member of Lambert's original lineup. The brother of Collin Raye kept his cool, and a pair of dark sunglasses on his head, while tearing through the Buddy Holly raveup "Not Fade Away." By taking over the lead vocal chores, he gave Lambert a momentary break during an extended encore.
But make no mistake, it was Lambert everyone came to see. Declared one of People Magazine's "100 Most Beautiful" in 2008 and 2009, Lambert's demure looks (flowing blond locks, beaming eyes, luscious lips) are a momentary distraction, until she whirls about the stage like a Texas tornado. Her fist-pumping, hair-waving, head-banging antics could rival any heavy metal kid's glory grooves.
She even dresses the part. Her Confederate grunge-meets-'80s-Madonna ensemble (vest jacket, plaid shirt, jeans, boots, silver belt buckle, rosary beads and crosses) is decidedly glammed down. There's the black leather wrapped around her wrist and a prominent tattoo on her left forearm of two crossed pistols with wings. During a sweat-soaked performance, no vain costume changes or hair-and-makeup touchups are required either. What you see is what you get. And with a voice more gritty than pretty, the rambunctious rocker apparently prefers to play it rough.
Lambert seems like one of the boys, even if she might scare off a few. "I'm not taking crap from nobody; especially a man that beats up on a woman," she proclaims before singing the trigger-happy "Gunpowder & Lead" (sample lyrics: "Hey I'm goin' home, gonna load my shotgun / Wait by the door and light a cigarette / He wants a fight well now he's got one"). Then from Revolution, there's "Maintain the Pain" (opening line: "I put a bullet in my radio") and "Time to Get a Gun" (albeit written by Fred Eaglesmith).
No wonder Lambert was named Esquire Magazine's "Terrifying Woman of the Year" in 2008. The proud owner of a concealed handgun license, she's the daughter of a retired lawman/private investigator who's still an avid firearms collector and hunter. In "Heart of Mine," even she admits, "I ain't the kind you take home to mama."
If there are any in-laws in her future, they need not worry, though (well, maybe just a little). "The House That Build Me" and "More Like Her" offer a more intimate glimpse into Little Miss Behaving. And before saying goodbye, she and Wray teamed up for a soft and sweet version of "Crazy," the Willie Nelson-penned number made famous by Patsy Cline. "I love all country music and always have," Lambert related, making sure she satisfied any disbelievers seeking affirmation.
There were no doubters on this night at the Grizzly Rose. Who knows when Lambert will return, despite her vow to come back to the chug-a-lug venue as long as "everybody in here will promise me that you'll come back and party with us."
In a business where younger performers are willing to go a country mile to make it tougher for more "mature" women to compete, Lambert, who just turned 26 in November, can still bank on holding her own in 2010. There are high-profile appearances on the Brad Paisley tour and a plum role in the highly anticipated return of Sarah McLachlan's wondrous Lilith Fair, heralded as "The Celebration of Women in Music," for the first time since 1999.
She may fill bigger arenas with better acoustics and perform in sold-out stadium shows throughout the summer, but Lambert plans to forever embrace the role of Honky-Tonk Woman in places exactly like the Grizzly Rose.
"That's where I started playing music," she said, "and that's where I'll finish playing music."
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