“I’m so happy to be home right now, I can’t even stand it!” Miranda Lambert shouted on Saturday night.
Whether in a Stockyards honky-tonk, an Arlington football stadium or a Dallas amphitheater, there is always an intense emotional undercurrent to her hometown shows. It’s no mystery as to why: Lambert hails from Lindale, 90 miles east, and cut her teeth in the state’s bars and clubs before heading off to Nashville and superstardom.
Despite a life now largely lived elsewhere, the 36-year-old Lambert has maintained a powerful connection to her home state, and especially those here who have supported her for the better part of 20 years. Yet, for all of the previous homecomings, there was a sense, as she stood before yet another sold-out crowd inside the American Airlines Center, that this particular performance may linger the longest in her memory — and ours.
Making her first Dallas appearance in two years, Lambert brought her Wildcard Tour (so named for her seventh studio album, released in 2019) back home to a raucous reception. She was back on stage after some recent, medically necessitated cancellations and backed by her eight-piece band, seeming refreshed and raring to go.
A sea of cowboy hat-clad men and women, many of whom were also outfitted in shirts bearing either Lambert’s face or her lyrics, stood and sang and cheered and applauded nearly her every move, buoying the blonde singer-songwriter when she appeared to be battling her feelings.
Traditionally, Lambert singing “The House That Built Me” serves as the evening’s poignant apex — and arriving late in the 90-minute set Saturday, it was again one of the more affecting highlights of the fast-paced concert. (“Thank you so much for that song, Dallas!” Lambert crowed at its completion.)
But, Lambert, who has grown more assured in her stage presentation with every tour — gone are the days of the shotgun microphone stand; now, she manifests the strength that visual once represented — had a surprise up her fringed sleeve.
To enthusiastic cheers, Lambert brought out the choir from Lindale High School to accompany her during “Tin Man,” a tune from her masterful 2016 double album The Weight of These Wings. She explained that it was through her efforts that the roughly two dozen students stood behind her at all — 20 years ago, Lambert started a petition for Lindale to have its own high school choir, and it has remained part of the curriculum ever since.
Standing alone in the spotlight, her acoustic guitar slung around her neck, with the choir arrayed tightly behind her, what transpired was utterly transcendent.
Lambert’s face — glimpsed in tight, black-and-white close-ups on the array of video screens above and behind the otherwise unremarkably dressed stage — was a canvas for her emotions, a flickering wave of feelings: pride, sorrow, joy, heartbreak. She was both immersed in the song — a lament, co-written with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, for the ache of a broken heart — and the sensation, as the ghostly harmonies of the young voices behind her filled in along the edges of her own exquisite vocals and created something absolutely extraordinary.
It was arguably the most vivid hometown moment Miranda Lambert has ever created for herself, and one which will be nearly impossible to top. (“That was cool!” she exclaimed as the choir exited the stage, having been high-fived by Lambert.)
That “Tin Man” followed “The House That Built Me” was no accident — Lambert is far too sharp for it to have been mere set-list serendipity. Indeed, everywhere you looked Saturday night, it was possible to see how Lambert cannily assembled the evening to serve as a satisfying overview of all she has done over the course of her Grammy-winning career.
Opening with “White Trash” and segueing into the stomping “Kerosene” before moving to “Famous in a Small Town” and “It All Comes Out in the Wash” — Lambert, who once needed to burn it all down and leave nothing but ash, now sings of rinsing it off amid a froth of soap bubbles.
As she’s gotten deeper into her career, her unerring instincts for irresistible hooks and indelible lyrics have only grown more refined, allowing her to juxtapose the playful spite of “Baggage Claim” and “Only Prettier” with the combustible nerviness of “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
There was also space allowed, as is Lambert’s long-running custom, to pay homage to her inspirations: Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me” fairly glowed with Laurel Canyon sunshine, while Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright?” was tucked snugly into “Baggage Claim,” and openers Parker McCollum and Randy Rogers returned to help Lambert close things out with Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”
But, it was only when Lambert began singing “Automatic,” a track from her 2014 LP Platinum, that she drove home how much it meant to be standing where she was, doing what she loved, before an audience that adored her so deeply it sang every lyric back to her, whether it was just a few months old or several years.
“Hey, whatever happened to waitin’ your turn/Doing it all by hand/’Cause when everything is handed to you/It’s only worth as much as the time put in,” sings Lambert in the chorus of “Automatic.”
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And while “Automatic” is more a paean to The Way Things Used to Be, it also functions as a kind of compact summation of how Lambert has achieved all she has.
For more than 15 years, she has reliably delivered album after album full of tuneful, textured songs that only grow richer with the passage of time, built a multiplatinum, award-laden career as a dynamic, thoughtful performer and weathered any number of brutal tabloid storms to emerge, bruised but unbowed, standing before an enormous room full of fans, friends and family, all of whom are as emotionally invested in the music as she is.
Nothing has been handed to her, all of us have put the time in, and it’s worth absolutely everything.