A few thoughts after seeing Grammy-winning country upstart Kacey Musgraves Thursday before a standing-room-only crowd at the Minnesota Zoo:
1. Musgraves is smart, clever, quirky, quick-witted, funny, talented and soooo likable. You want to hang out with her after the show. And maybe again tomorrow for coffee.
2. Even though she just released her second album to much acclaim last month, the set list and the staging were pretty similar to what she offered in February at the sold-out and much bigger State Theatre in Minneapolis. The stage was festooned with neon cacti; she wore a fringed vest and matching skirt with a tablecloth-plaid blouse while her five backup musicians wore suits decorated with lit white Christmas lights.
3. Musgraves mentioned that she was so busy promoting her new album, “Pageant Material,” that she hasn’t been sleeping much. In fact, she seems a little tired when she was singing.
4. Her personality could not be denied. The 26-year-old from a small Texas town cracked several jokes about performing at a zoo for the first time, gushed about singing at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July picnic the other day (and shooting a music video with him), reminisced about her birthday party last year at a roller rink in Burnsville (same story she told at the State), dropped the word “ass” several times before noticing kids in the crowd and kept pronouncing “Minnesota” like she’d watched the movie “Fargo” en route to the zoo or listened to “A Prairie Home Companion” too many times.
5.She graciously honored three concertgoers during her 100-minute performance. One was a young boy sitting close to the stage, wearing a cowboy hat (one of the few in the crowd) and a Musgraves T-shirt. The singer noticed that the boy was singing along to every song. She asked him his name – Gregory – and then gave him a guitar pick after she sang her hit “Merry Go Round.” She gave a shout-out to a fan who had started a Musgraves Tumblr page (they had never met) and assured the young woman that she saw, admired and appreciated all the work. And Musgraves saluted Gena Johnson, who had been an assistant (always there with the green tea) at the Nashville studio where “Pageant Material” was recorded.
6. Musgraves’ personality and patter were more compelling than her performance. Her singing – her voice is sweet but thin -- seemed emotionally flat at times. That’s magnified by the fact that many of her songs have similar tempos and dynamics. That’s where covers helped to change the tempo and texture – Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” (which Musgraves cowrote), Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (which seemed apropos at the zoo amphitheater where Musgraves woke up to witness the daily birds show), the encore of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” (with Musgraves wearing boots decorated with white Christmas lights) and TLC’s “No Scrubs,” which, coincidentally, Salt-N-Pepa had performed the night before at the zoo. When was the last time you heard two disparate acts cover the same song in the same venue on consecutive nights? (By the by, at the State Theatre, where a Friday-night crowd was, um, less sober than the zoo throng, Musgraves gave the fans a choice of a TLC or Britney Spears song. They voted No Spears.)
7. Delivering original songs filled with such clever wordplay, Musgraves prudently does not punch her punchlines, relying on an understated tone or even irony to drive home her observation. That dryness adds to the humor but too much of that approach makes a fan anxious to hear albums No. 3 and 4 to help expand her repertoire.