Saturday, February 11, 2011
Better than: Any other country starlet who will pack a venue in KC this year. (Eat your heart out, Taylor Swift.)
When you're lookin' at me, you're lookin' at country, sang Loretta Lynn. Lynn smiled, and pointed to her chest coyly in her glittering, Glenda-the-Good-Witch princess dress. That line drew a swell of cheers from the crowd for a simple reason: They just don't make 'em like Miss Lynn anymore.
The star performed for a full house at the Ameristar Pavilion at Ameristar Casino. Spotted in the crowd: perfectly coifed bouffants, fringed jackets, ass-length ponytails -- male -- and plenty of rapt, blue-haired women who had listened to Lynn sing their triumphs and pains for almost 40 years.
There was also a smattering of younger souls there, too. After all, watching Lynn roll through a slew of crusty country hits is the only time that newer generations will witness the same breed of showmanship and clever banter that peppered the performances of legends like Johnny Cash and June Carter. At her core, Lynn is a performer, and that's why the spare quaver (or slight reach for a note) was a feeble blip on a critic's radar. On Saturday night, it was clear that the audience was in the presence of someone with the stage gravity that takes 40 years to achieve.
Lynn brought along some family on tour: her son, Ernest Ray Lynn, and her daughters, Patsy and Peggy. From the moment that Ernie stumbled out onstage, it was clear that he'd been pounding a few cold ones backstage. After getting the mic cord caught in his crotch several times and making a half-coherent joke about Viagra, he retired to his spot behind the mic with his acoustic guitar. Lynn's twin daughters, Patsy and Peggy, emerged and sang a few tunes off their record. (Amazingly, Patsy was wearing sparkling leggings and a tunic. It was strange how easily the spotlight had bred Lynn's signature country out of these two: Besides a slight drawl that resembled their mother's, these women looked like any other glitzy JoCo mom you'd see perusing the silverware in Crate and Barrel at 119th and Roe.)
After finishing up, the ladies gestured offstage and welcomed on "momma." Lynn floated out onstage, beaming in her curled hair and red lipstick, and showcased a strong, wily voice on "They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy Anymore." (In her later years, Lynn has contracted a quaver that makes her sound a bit like Emmylou Harris, but it complements her fresh, spunky style perfectly.) Lynn thanked the audience between each song. "This is your show," Lynn said. "We just snuck in the back. Whatever you wanna hear, holler it out. It won't do you any good," Lynn said, laughing, "but it gives you a good chance to holler."
Lynn took a break between sets to chat with the crowd and talk about her new tribute album, Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn. "I've got tracks on there with Sheryl Crowe and Miranda [Lambert]. I've even got one with Kid Rock."
Ernie chimed in: "I think he's gay."
Lynn turned around quickly and said: "You are drunk. Get back on your X!"
Ernie muttered something about things being different nowdays -- "We got a black president..." -- before trailing off. Lynn chastised him: "Ernie, I'll kill you if you keep talkin' that way!"
Ernie replied, "If daddy were alive, he'd kill you for talkin' to me like that."
The tension was palpable. Lynn looked out at the crowd and shook her head: "Lordy, Lordy." Someone from the crowd yelled defensively, "You talk nice to your mama!"
One of Lynn's duet partners and backup singers in a black cowboy hat attempted to smooth things over by mentioning Lynn's nomination for a CMA award and launched into "Blue Kentucky Girl." (This backup singer, with his buttery baritone, led Lynn throughout the night gently, with respect and finesse, like he was guiding her in a slow waltz.) After a couple of the guitarists spoke to Ernie during the song, he sauntered offstage, looking vaguely pissed off. "Ernie's offstage," Lynn said. "Feels good, don't it?"
Lynn had enough fire to take care of herself. "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" was a hell of a lot more gangster than most of the modern shit-kicking songs I've heard. (For some reason, the Dixie Chicks just didn't seem to mean it in "Goodbye Earl." Miranda Lambert might, though -- and that might be why Lynn has her on her tribute album.) Afterward, Lynn told us that she hoped the woman about whom she wrote it - who apparently lived in either North or South Dakota - was dead. "And if she ain't, I'll kill her," she said, opening her blue eyes wide. Even at age 75, in a big, retro sparkling dress, it wasn't hard to believe her. It was around this moment in the concert that Loretta Lynn became my hero. You go, girl.
Critic's Bias: I'm a feminist. Sue me.
Overheard in the Crowd:
A crowd member: "Johnny Mullin's daughter is here!" (He wrote "Blue Kentucky Girl.")
Loretta Lynn: "I wanna see you after the show, honey."
They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy Anymore
You're Looking At Country
When The Tingle Becomes A Chill
I Wanna Be Free
Here I Am Again
You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)
Blue Kentucky Girl
Don't Go Lovin' On Nobody But Me
Out of My Head And Back In My Bed
Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven
Where No One Stands Alone
Coal Miner's Daughter
*Lynn's dress made it hard to take pictures -- especially when you've forgotten your camera and are using your godforsaken Blackberry. Sorry, guys.