The Bomb Factory, Dallas
Friday, April 19, 2019
Before Maren Morris could move forward, she needed to step back.
“I’m gonna conduct a straw poll,” the singer-songwriter told the sold-out Bomb Factory crowd Friday night, near the end of her performance, as she lightly strummed the opening chords of her breakout single “My Church.” “Did anyone see when I opened for Keith Urban?”
Morris was referring to the climax of her Oct. 14, 2016, appearance at American Airlines Center, which found the then-rising country star becoming emotionally overwhelmed by a nearly full arena singing words she’d written back to her.
“I bawled my fuckin’ eyes out that night,” Morris continued. “I’d been bred to hold it in … but when things you cannot process hit you … I remember singing this song and thinking, ‘This will work out.’ … There are so many days I thought I might quit, but I’m glad I didn’t.”
With that, she began “My Church,” yet another stirring moment in an evening full of them.
To say pursuing music has worked out for Morris would be like describing Stephen Curry as a pretty decent basketball player — an enormous understatement.
Although her trajectory appears dizzying for those who’ve only been paying attention since her 2016 major label debut, the gold-certified and Grammy-nominated Hero, the 29-year-old Morris has been putting in the work since before she’d finished grade school.
Therefore, Friday night’s 85-minute showcase, Morris’ first North Texas appearance since making a cameo during Taylor Swift’s two-night stand at AT&T Stadium last fall, had a lot of heavy lifting to do. It was a homecoming, a coronation and a celebration, with each element informing and enriching the other.
In her brief time on stage, the romper-clad Arlington native, supporting her latest LP, Girl, deftly moved between cementing her status as one of music’s A-list talents, embodying an empowered, bad-ass woman making what Cardi B would classify as “money moves” and satisfying fans who adore the no-nonsense vocal powerhouse behind heavy-rotation hits like “Rich,” “80s Mercedes,” “I Could Use a Love Song” and the show-closing, ubiquitous pop smash, “The Middle.”
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She also acknowledged the friends and family who’ve been listening since her long-ago open-mic nights at the Grease Monkey, pulling from regionally released records like 2007’s All That It Takes.
Far more assured in the spotlight — relentless touring around the world opening for global superstars and multiple appearances on nationally televised awards shows still does wonders for the ol’ confidence — Morris kept the night moving at a brisk, efficient pace.
It didn’t hurt that nearly every song showcased Friday — Morris was backed by a quintet of musicians, arrayed on a smoke-wreathed stage and dwarfed by a riot of neon lighting as well as an expansive video screen — clocked in at a clean three or four minutes. The cumulative effect was not unlike having Morris’ two major-label efforts shuffled on a playlist.
As for the genre labels — something the Nashville-based Morris herself has gone on record, to me and others, as being utterly unconcerned about — it’s fairly useless to stand in the moment and parse whether one song or another favors a more country or pop direction.
For Morris, leaning into smolder (“Make Out with Me”) or sass (“All My Favorite People”) with her tangy Texas alto, music is just music.
The buzzing crowd, rife with small packs of women thoroughly embracing their girls’ nights out and populated with fans of all ages, certainly didn’t discriminate, singing along loudly to nearly every tune Morris offered up — although there were moments, during “Rich” and “My Church,” in particular, when Morris was happy to cede the vocals to the enthusiastic room.
She was also candid about her inspirations, offering an aside about her husband, fellow musician Ryan Hurd, before “To Hell & Back” — “Find somebody who isn’t trying to fix you or water you down,” she advised — and proudly noting the chart-topping success of “I Could Use a Love Song.” “I will always and forever be from this amazing state,” she said. “Thank you for giving me a career at all.”
Friday night’s Bomb Factory gig — four miles from where Maren Morris stood in the fall of 2016, and nearly three years ago, before her entire world expanded and became something she never dreamed possible — was no less of an affecting performance, just one with slightly different textures.
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She made it through “My Church” this time, her eyes sparkling and a grin filling her face. Rather than anticipation for what lay ahead, there was a sense of accomplishment, of pride — and of gratitude.
“Dallas, this has been so meaningful and so emotional to me — I cannot wait to come back and play more shows,” Morris shouted before the night’s final song.
What went unspoken, of course, but almost every person surely understood as they spilled out into Deep Ellum afterward, is that those shows Morris anticipates will only scale up from here. Indeed, from a certain angle Friday, it was possible to see her crisp, polished performance as training for the inevitable transition to arena stages.
But then, it was an evening full of perspective: Maren Morris belongs to the world now, yet for a night, there was time for both poignant remembrances of the local girl made good, and fervent appreciation for the Grammy-winning artist in our midst, a true Lone Star affixed in the pop music firmament.