REVIEW: Kacey Musgraves exercises the art of the slow burn at the Masonic

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Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves performs at the Masonic in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2019. Courtesy: Paige K Parsons.

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s been quite a week for country queen Kacey Musgraves. It began last Sunday with four Grammy Awards, including the coveted Album of the Year win for 2018’s Golden Hour. Musgraves could have taken a few days to celebrate the accomplishment, but she’s in the middle of a tour and wasn’t about to cancel concerts.

It did mean, however, that she was tired, and acknowledged as much midway through her 100-minute show at the Masonic.

“It’s not been, like, a crazy week or anything,” Musgraves joked. “It can be so hard to get into show clothes and show mode. But then we come out and see a crowd like this! Thanks for turning around my day.”

Unlike previous stops through the Bay Area a few years ago, which featured a fair amount of pageantry and humor—her band would wear matching outfits, dance together and show off their hidden talents, while Musgraves would crack jokes—Saturday’s concert was an exercise in restraint. The arrangements were sparser and more delicate, the rhythm section did not hit as hard and the guitar solos were generally more subdued. That began at the outset, with the appropriately titled “Slow Burn.”

Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves performs at the Masonic in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2019. Courtesy: Paige K Parsons.

Musgraves and her band appeared on the two-level stage, with the singer silhouetted by spotlights. She strummed her guitar and the band slowly joined in, one by one. She would go on to play all 13 songs from Golden Hour, which meant 2015’s Pageant Material and 2013’s Same Trailer Different Park were relegated to a handful of songs. For the mid-tempo “Wonder Woman,” she put her guitar down and stepped down to the front of the stage to sing. Following the song, the the room grew thunderous with prolonged applause that made the singer take notice.

“It’s obvious you guys have been doing your lyrical homework,” she said.

“Butterflies” and “Lonely Weekend” were piano-leaning pop songs; the night’s first diversion away from country. Both songs still had twangy strains, but they were not as obvious. “Happy & Sad” was a more traditional country ballad but with dry electronic percussion. While in Bay Area shows past, Musgraves would croon and showcase her pipes, she mostly stayed within the middle lane, even on older songs like “Merry Go ‘Round.” When she briefly left her microphone to play guitar, the crowd picked up the song powerfully before helping her finish the song.

“High Time,” from Pageant Material, led into the sparse Latin-tinged guitars and hand drumming of the loungy Golden Hour title track. “Die Fun” had a cinematic post-rock breakdown by Kacey Musgraves’ band that served as a close to the first half of the show.

Musgraves didn’t talk as much to the audience as at past shows, but did call out her mom, who was in the building, as an introduction to “Mother,” for which her band descended to the bottom step of the stage. This part of the show, which lasted for several songs, featured more string-centric arrangements, including a cello and a stand-up bass. “Mother” transitioned into “Oh, What a World,” the highlight of the night. While it wasn’t an energetic payoff to the slow-burning set—that would come later—it notched up the temperature to a simmer with a glowing sense of nostalgia and melancholy. The song’s vocoded intro was far from country but was a perfect set-up to the mood Musgraves set out to communicate. Concertgoers noticed the change in temperature, giving Musgraves another extended ovation, and a bouquet of flowers.

Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves performs at the Masonic in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2019. Courtesy: Paige K Parsons.

That’s when the show began picking up pace, first with “Family is Family,” then with “Love is a Wild Thing,” which saw Musgraves stretch out her voice for the first time. On the bouncy “Velvet Elvis,” Musgraves moved about the stage after staying mostly stationary, and she was bathed in blue light for “Space Cowboy,” another song from Golden Hour.

Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy popped out on stage for a driving cover of NSYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” which included some entertaining attempts at choreographed dancing. Musgraves then brought the show home with one of her biggest hits, “Follow Your Arrow,” as well as an encore of “Rainbow” and “High Horse.” The former song carried perhaps the most important message of the night, and one that explained the diverse array of fans in the room; young, old, lovers of country, pop and more:

“Country music wasn’t always the most inclusive environment,” Musgraves said. “Not anymore.”

The latter, meanwhile was the big climactic explosion that resolved the slow build. The only thing was that this disco-tinged pop banger was so different from everything else in the set that it suddenly felt like a different concert altogether, which was a strange feeling to have after nearly two hours.

Nashville’s Soccer Mommy opened the show, with beaming lights intertwined around singer Sophie Allison as guitarist Julien Powell, bassist Graeme Goetz and the rest of the touring band uplifted each song from 2018’s Clean. Allison gently launched into “Try,” the opening track off her prior EP, Songs From My Bedroom. Her vocals had the innate ability to make the room seem smaller, somehow. Soccer Mommy returns to the Great American Music Hall in April.

Shawn Robbins contributed to this report. Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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