Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Martina McBride concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally appeared at

The personal touch can make a big difference.

Case in point: Eleven, last year’s strong studio album by Martina McBride, who co-wrote half the tracks for the first time and occasionally displayed a more playful side.

McBride has been called “the country Celine Dion” due to a frequently soaring soprano vocal range, but that’s selling her short. There’s definitely more substance and grit to this Kansas native than the Canadian pop chanteuse or even a contemporary like Faith Hill.

This past spring, McBride was among the standout performers at the Stagecoach festival in Indio. More recently, she was part of the talent search team on the music reality series “Opening Act,” created by Nigel Lythgoe (“Dancing with the Stars,” “American Idol”). It currently airs on the E! television network. Fans can also see her alongside Jennifer Hudson and Carole King next month on the PBS special, "From Dust to Dreams."

Friday night at the Pacific Amphitheatre, McBride did up a superb 1 hour, 45-minute concert that spanned her two decades-long career and offered up several choice covers. “I want this show to feel like you’re hanging out in my living room,”she said. With billowy, glittering violet curtains surrounding the stage, it almost did.

The older-skewing crowd was far different that others I’ve attended at the OC Fair the last few weeks. A majority of people were actually intent on hearing the music and remained seated. Chatty, rambunctious drunks – like the young gals whooping and hollering near me - were clearly the minority here.

“One Night” launched the 22-song set in perfect high flying fashion. McBride was backed by a seven-piece band, including Carolyn Dawn Johnson on acoustic guitar/background vocals (the Canadian artist appears on Eleven and collaborated with McBride for her own country hit “Georgia” in 2000).

Sassy, slow-building number “Whatcha Gonna Do,” where a restless woman gives her man an ultimatum, was an early highlight. Before the spirited, mildly rocking parenting tune “Teenage Daughters” (co-penned by McBride and the Warren Brothers), the singer mentioned her family’s summer vacation in LA and half-jokingly remarked that it was “good to be back on the road."

Poignant breast cancer survival tune “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” (a top 5 country charter), saw McBride turn in an emotional delivery, arms outstretched, as orchestration swelled. The jaunty, horn inflected “Broken Umbrella” is a refreshing change of pace on Eleven; in Costa Mesa, it boasted more of a Petula Clark-styled splendor.

McBride’s hit version of Lynn Anderson’s “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” was solid, while the fun, twangy “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues” - from 2001- could’ve been an inspiration for Miranda Lambert’s career.

Displaying more gumption, she commandeered a male fan’s drink during a faithful singalong take on Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” played some wicked harmonica amid“Love’s the Only House” and got all sultry during the sizzling Sheryl Crow-leaning “Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong.”

Other rock touchstones creeped into the set as well: McBride added the chorus of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” to Cat Stevens' plaintive mandolin/washboard-enhanced “First Cut is the Deepest” and made passing references to Alice Cooper and The Rolling Stones.

Elsewhere,“Whatever You Say” contained some soulful, full-bodied wailing, the wonderful“Independence Day” drew big cheers from the “took myself to the fair in town” lyric and “This One’s For the Girls” was a buoyant joy. Finally, McBride capped off the night with the band's surprising country/new wave hybrid of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

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