Auckland Town Hall was packed for Kacey Musgrave’s New Zealand debut. This country star seemed to bring New Zealand’s cowboys/cowgirls/cowfolk out of the woodwork, as dotted throughout the audience were a good amount of Stetsons, dungarees and glitter.
Her opening act Bahamas, a Canadian folk musician on the rise, was a very easy listening intro. They were chill, funky and very down-to-earth, but the crowd was simply buzzing for Musgraves. Something Afie Jurvanen – the man behind Bahamas – knew all too well, as before the last song he closed with a simple thanks before politely announcing about their set that “the best part (was) – it’s almost over.”
Musgraves enters wearing a flowery co-ord flare pants and crop top combo – a bright pink bow topping her impressively long hair. Hair which was styled in a half up-do reminiscent of Priscilla Presley. She launched into ‘Slow Burn’ before moving without interruption into ‘Wonder Woman’. A disco ball appears on the screen behind Musgraves. This disco ball shifts into a projection of kaleidoscopic butterflies below pink lights for the predictably named ‘Butterflies.’
From ‘Wonder Woman’ it is clear Musgraves has a great command of the stage as she strolls up and down, holding out her mic for the audience. She performs like she’s on stage at a grand music festival, rather than an intimate gig at the Auckland Town Hall. Musgraves voice is sweet with a perfect country burr. Her transitions are smooth and her high notes piercing.
Part of what seemingly differentiates Musgraves from typical country singers is her artistry and her awareness of performance and curated style. You can see this just by looking at the 6-piece band she later refers to as ‘The Crispy Boys’ who wear matching terracotta-mauve suits. One even wears a sparkly headband which matches Musgraves’ bejewelled mic stand. This awareness and attention to detail seems subtle, but is part of the draw of Kacey Musgraves. Her sense of aesthetics is strong, and every moment of the show helps contribute to this atmosphere of sweetness and warmth. It is glitter and flower stickers – Barbie with a bite.
The mood on stage shifts from the glitzy galaxy mountain range of ‘Happy & Sad’ to a deep saturated red for ‘Merry Go ‘Round’. Musgraves talks about how she “grew up in a little nowhere town outside of Texas” and that the song is about where she’s from, but could be about us too. It is very transporting. Under the banjo and the plaintive whine of the pedal steel guitar, you can see the little country girl who grew up in a small town writing and singing. Musgraves is armed with the acoustic guitar she continues to play so gently and easily for most of the show. In a very sweet moment, Musgraves pauses and lets the audience sing the nursery-rhyme like chorus. Perhaps country fans are simply better singers than other genres, as the audience singing back melodically even causes Musgraves to say she should just let the audience sing for the rest of (the concert).
It is hard to pick out stand out moments, as Musgraves almost creates a crafted individual scene for each of her songs. The spaghetti-western interlude with silhouetted cactuses paired with the whistling tango for ‘Western Jam/High Time’. The lush colour palette of ‘Golden Hour’, the titular track from her multiple Grammy award winning album. As Musgraves sings about making “the world look beautiful”, that’s something she’s done on stage with an illusion of a sun-drenched “world on fire.” The lights dim to amber as Musgraves and ‘The Crispy Boys’ gather at the front of the stage, almost like a jug band clustered around a campfire, for ‘Mother’ and the touring title ‘Oh, What A World’. There are definitely gasps as a cello is brought out. Musgraves creates a precious moment on stage and as she sings about “all kinds of magic” this definitely feels like one of them. Through clever choices and production, Musgraves recreates visual representations on stage of what it is like to listen to her songs.
Musgraves thanks all her band members for us individually as they play fun little riffs of famous tunes from ‘Smoke on the Water’ to the Game of Thrones theme. Musgraves talks about New Zealand’s beauty, and how she went to “Peehaw” Beach and they rode horses. Much to her consternation, they made her ride super slow and with a safety vest! She’s from Texas y’all. Said Texan accent comes through a little stronger during ‘Family’, as do the excellent banjo and cello moments.
It is an overwhelmingly fun concert. Musgraves voice is silky and indolent for ‘Velvet Elvis’ whilst the dive into a disco cover of ‘I Will Survive’ has the entire audience dancing in a real high moment. As Musgraves sings during ‘Space Cowboy’, face in profile amidst a starry sea-green sky, you realise there is virtually no difference between her recordings and her live performance. If anything, it’s better here with the visual spectacle.
It is clear why Musgraves has collected such a wide and loyal fan base, successfully achieving that elusive ‘crossover’ quality many aspire to. Her pop-country stylings are just that – stylish; and she backs up her music with a strong dedication to inclusion and diversity. Before ‘Love Is A Wild Thing’ and ‘Follow Your Arrow’ she makes small impassioned speeches about holding onto hope and love winning out overall. “You’re never gonna be exactly what society wants you to be, so fuck it” Musgraves cries out before leading into the arguably LGBT anthems ‘Follow Your Arrow’ and ‘Rainbow’. She closes out ‘Rainbow’ with a gracious mouthed thanks, before adding a verbal one and a “You guys are the shit.” We return to a final bout of disco dance fun as Musgraves closes the night with ‘High Horse’. As Musgraves strides across the stage waving a rainbow flag-fan, the crowd jumping up and down, it is undeniable that Kacey Musgraves puts the cool in country. Yeehaw.