The cheering was so loud that Kacey Musgraves turned to her band with her mouth agape.
She’d been baiting the crowd good-naturedly, talking about how loud the Philadelphia audience had been the night before. But when the house lights at New York’s Beacon Theatre went up mid-show for a “let’s get a look at you” moment on Friday night, the cheering was so loud, prolonged and over the top that self-deprecation was the only move: She finally gestured to the steps leading down from the platform at the back of the stage and said, “Y’all are just cheering because I didn’t fall on my ass walking down those stairs!”
Considering her gradual but inexorable rise over the past five years; considering the accessibility, intelligence, humor, positivity and wide appeal of her songs; considering the praise heaped upon her by critics (not to mention her two Grammy wins and the four nominations for her latest album, “Golden Hour“); and considering, most of all, the rapturous response she receives from her fans, it’s hard to imagine that within the next couple of years Kacey Musgraves won’t be one of the biggest stars in music. We’ve seen her perform several times since 2013, and her onstage presence and command of the crowd have become arena-sized with ease.
It’s tempting at times, seeing the reverence of the audience and the effortless accessibility of the songs, to make Taylor Swift comparisons, but Musgraves is too sassy, too adult, too irreverent — and there’s a Dollyesque down-home charm that suggests she never takes herself too seriously. She made a forceful pivot into pop with “Golden Hour,” but hasn’t made that much of a big deal about it.
Yet there’s definitely a common element in her appeal and her connection to the audience. Yes, this was a New York show, which certainly isn’t representative of the rest of the world. But the demographic spread in the audience at the completely sold-out Beacon was striking: There were baby-boomer country fans; teenaged pop fans who might have seen her opening for Harry Styles last year; alternative and Americana fans; and on the slower songs you’d see parents and kids, straight and gay couples all snuggling and singing along. In fact, for much of the show it seemed like more than half of the audience was singing along blissfully.
Oh right, the show. Not surprisingly, the set was overwhelmingly heavy on “Golden Hour”: She played every song from the album, the stage backdrop is a giant fan styled like the one she holds on its cover, and the tour is named after the album track “Oh, What a World” (“Oh, What a World: Tour,” geddit?). She wore a big sparkly pink-and-gold pantsuit with legs so wide it often looked like a gown, and the lighting was heavy on (thematic note!) rainbow colors.
And although the album is much more pop-oriented than her previous, more country-leaning outings, she and her six-piece band (who were accompanied by two female backing singers for about half the set) actually bring more twang to the songs in a live setting. There were flourishes of banjo and pedal steel, and the group — clad in matching maroon suits with dark red turtlenecks, very Booker T & the MGs — sat down with acoustic instruments for several songs in the middle of the set and practically turned into a bluegrass outfit.
While some of her trademark hilarious between-song comments were lost in the cheering, highlights included her singing “golden shower” at the end of “Golden Hour” and managing to tack a “just kidding” onto the end of the verse; the crowd erupted when she said she was from Texas, prompting a baffled comment: “Do you know why you’re cheering for East Texas? You wouldn’t if you’d been there!”
The main set wound down with an unexpected cover of Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem “I Will Survive” — sung as a female-empowering duet with opening act Natalie Prass — and closed with a rousing speech about trying to endure the insanity of the today’s world and hold on until things get better, a perfect lead-in for her set-closing anthem of tolerance and optimism, “Follow Your Arrow.”
In an unusual move, Musgraves then moved into what was essentially the encore, but without leaving the stage. She did a lovely version of “Rainbow” accompanied just by a pianist, and then the group came back onstage for the Philly-soul-styled “High Horse,” for which roadies tossed a couple dozen giant illuminated beach balls into the crowd, ending the night on a festive, disco-party vibe. And with a final bow, Musgraves exited the stage, precisely 90 minutes after the set began, at the very civilized hour of 10:40: After all, the “Oh, What a World Tour” stretches into November.