CONCERT REVIEW: Pistol Annies — Stripped Down and Fired Up

The Pistol Annies played their first-ever solo show Saturday night at the Las Vegas House of Blues.  The trio (Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert) admitted to being nervous.  It could’ve been because it was their first headlining concert.  Or it could’ve been because they chose to strip things down and make it an acoustic show.  It turns out the only thing they needed to worry about was having enough room for all of their fired-up fans.

The final song played before the Annies hit the stage was Loretta Lynn’s “You’re Lookin’ At Country.”  That song set the tone for a night of music that shows the traditional sound is alive and kickin’. (If you’re a guy, it might be kickin’ you somewhere very, very painful!)  Shortly after 11pm the Annies started things off with the rockin’ “Bad Example.”  The song, like almost every other song off of the Annies’ debut “Hell On Heels” album, would’ve fit perfectly being played during the old road shows featuring the likes of Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly.

The Annies sang all ten tracks from their album, but threw in a lot of surprises along the way.  This included covers of Lynn’s “Fist City” and Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”  They also sang a medley of songs that reminded each of them of where they’re from.  Presley chose Emmylou Harris’ “Blue Kentucky Girl,” Monroe sang Dolly Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home”  and Lambert, wearing a longhorn belt buckle, saluted her home state with Tanya Tucker’s “Texas (When I Die).”

Lambert is easily the most well-known of the Pistol Annies.  While many fans may not be as familiar with Presley and Monroe, they are familiar with their songwriting.  The two performed songs they wrote, but were recorded by other performers.  Monroe played “The Truth,” which became a #1 hit for Jason Aldean.  Presley got the crowd rockin’ with her “Look It Up,” which was a hit earlier this year for Ashton Shepherd.  Lambert’s contribution to the solo songwriter set was her chart-topping “Heart Like Mine,” in which the three took turns singing verses.

The Pistol Annies write and sing about strong and powerful women, but the show wasn’t exclusively a girl’s club.  The band performed Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” with guest vocals by long-time Lambert guitar player Scotty Wray.  He was part of the Annies’ backing band, joined by Aden Bubeck on standup bass and Chris Kline on guitars, harmonica and anything the Annies needed.  With the show being in Vegas, we can say Wray, Bubeck and Kline played the role of the Jordanaires to the Annies being Elvis.  They provided the perfect backing to let the ladies shine.

The biggest surprise of the night came during the singing of “Family Feud.”  The girls introduced that song by bringing out co-writer Blake Shelton.  As you might expect, the crowd exploded when the reigning CMA Male Vocalist of the Year hit the stage.  Lambert appeared to bursting with pride as her husband and honorary Annie (technically an Andy) delivered a powerful performance.  At the end of the song the two shared a kiss and hug before Shelton left the stage.

They concluded their set with “Trailer For Rent” (during which Lambert invited all the ladies in the crowd to join her in singing about being tired of their man’s crap (although she uses a different word) and “Takin’ Pills,” which addresses the addictions of all three Annie characters (One’s drinkin’, one’s smokin’ and one’s takin’ pills).  To what extent the song is truly about the three of them, we may never know.   But we do know it’s a great song that turns “life’s hard and were doin’ whatever it takes to get by” into a heck of a lot of fun.

The night continued with the band’s next first:  Their first encore.  They performed their smash-hit “Hell On Heels.”  After the show they said they were amused to see all of the men in the crowd singing along with the song.  But once again, it was Las Vegas.  They followed that with the haunting “Housewife’s Prayer.”  From the opening line of “I’ve been thinking about setting my house on fire,” the song just resonated with the crowd.  Who hasn’t been to the point where they want to chuck it all?    The Annies concluded the night with a final slice of traditional country singing the Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings “Good Hearted Woman.”

If this first show is any indication, the red-hot Pistol Annies are right on target.  The band has said they were using this show and two more that are scheduled for this week to see how they are received before adding more dates.  It would appear more dates (and more seats at the selected venues) will be needed.