While all of George Strait’s exes may live in Texas, all the exes of famous country stars live in the minds of fans. Can you think of Tammy Wynette without mentioning George Jones? Shania Twain without wondering about Mutt Lange?
Hardly anyone who went to see Miranda Lambert on Friday at Xcel Energy Center could not think of Blake Shelton, whom Lambert divorced in 2015. She mentioned the d-i-v-o-r-c-e before one song, saying how much it all sucked. And it was likely that other new tunes were sparked by what went wrong in that relationship.
However, breaking up wasn’t necessarily the dominant mood at the X. Those sad songs had to compete with St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish-loving, beer-drinking Capital City. Fittingly, Lambert hit the stage wearing the green — a gaudy necklace, a lit-up bracelet and a plastic ring that shone brighter than any diamond because it had a glowing light bulb.
Too bad it took the 33-year-old Texan too long to get into the St. Paddy’s spirit. For much of the first half of her 80-minute set, she delivered nearly every song — scorcher, tear-jerker, rocker, ballad, whatever — with the same intensity. That stripped some of the program of its emotionalism, though Lambert managed to elevate “For the Birds,” “Vice” and her classic “The House That Built Me” into highlights.
The performance turned around on what seemed like an off-handed, almost throwaway moment that may have been inserted for the lusty, well-lubricated St. Paddy’s revelers. Lambert tore into ZZ Top’s “Tush” like she was a woman on the prowl and she meant it.
The seemingly polite country star who’d spent the night sauntering around the stage suddenly began to strut. She shook her long hair like she was in a Taylor Swift video. She rocked out like she was in a club watching her favorite band, except she was the singer. She totally commanded the moment. And the crowd of 12,000 responded with its most raucous ovation of the night.
Lambert finally let her hair — and guard — down. She offered her new single “We Should Be Friends” with a newfound looseness and attitude, her face and hands finally animated.
She rocked with authority on the scolding “Little Red Wagon,” during which her guitarist sounded like he was playing riffs from Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Lambert went crazy on the scorching “Gunpowder and Lead,” her 2008 hit, punching the air, stomping her feet and imploring her fans to “Sing it!”
When Lambert returned for the encore, she was clearly in the moment. “I know you’ve been drinking all day and it’s Friday and St. Patrick’s Day,” she said as she stood without her eight-member band. “I want you to give me three moments of quiet. As a songwriter, we want you to feel every emotion. This is a sad song.”
Lambert had certainly covered many emotions, including kiss-offs, broken hearts, silliness, the joy of diversity, the thrill of traveling, thankfulness for her raising, the regrets of one-night stands and drowning one’s sadness with drink.
To close the night, she offered “Tin Man,” from her 2016 album “The Weight of These Wings.” This and several other songs were obviously inspired by love gone wrong.
With just her acoustic guitar, she sang about love being so hard. “Better thank your lucky stars,” she crooned to the “Wizard of Oz” character. “If you ever felt one breaking, you’d never want a heart.”
She hummed the bridge of the song and took a pregnant pause. The crowd went wild, thinking it was over. But no.
“If you don’t mind the scars,” she continued. “You give me your armor and you can have my heart.”
The crowd clapped in cadence to the music as if this were an Irish wake. Only on St. Patrick’s Day in St. Paul.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719