Country music fans got a double-barrel blast of boundless energy and nonstop hits Friday night as Tishomingo resident Miranda Lambert and her longtime pal Dierks Bentley aimed their “Locked & Reloaded Tour” at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
With their dynamic set lists and easy charisma, the superstar co-headliners set their sights on thrilling the near-sellout audience, and judging from the way they kept the rowdy crowd stomping, cheering and dancing through both blazing sets, the show hit a bull’s-eye.
Lee Brice tripped the trigger on the nearly 3 ½-hour hit parade with his raucous “Parking Lot Party.” But the singer-songwriter, who was casually clad in worn jeans, an untucked button-down shirt and a backwards ball cap, got fans wailing along early with his smash ballads “A Woman Like You,” “Hard to Love” and “Love Like Crazy.” Whether he was playfully popping the top on a cold one for “Beer” or sincerely dedicating “I Drive Your Truck” to our military servicemen and women and their families, the South Carolina native boasted a winning smile and plenty of southern charm.
When it comes to effortless charm and sheer energy, though, it’s hard to imagine many country stars topping Bentley, who soon made use of every inch of his big two-tier stage. The Arizona native immediately incited the boisterous crowd with a trio of amped-up hits: “Am I the Only One,” “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” and “5-1-5-0.”
“That’s what it’s all about tonight,” said Bentley, who took the stage in torn jeans, a black cap that he mostly wore backward, an olive green T-shirt he soon sweated through and a well-worn acoustic guitar.
“This is my fourth time playing in this building, and I can guarantee y’all this’ll be the best time we’ve played here. We’re gonna make the best memories here,” he added, closing his eyes as he crooned the ballad “Every Mile a Memory.”
As he cranked the energy back up with “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” which he said he wrote years ago on a bus in Oklahoma City, the singer-songwriter made sure the night was particularly memorable for one teenage fan.
Bentley pulled Ashlan Mays of Lindsay out of the pit and onto the stage, strapped his electric guitar on her and gave her a quick music lesson. While the superstar dashed around the stage slapping high-fives and tossing picks into the crowd, his band supportively surrounded the teen, who kept strumming with a bemused smile. At the end of the song, Bentley mischievously pointed to Mays, doffed his cap, took a bow and sprinted off the stage. Fortunately, he didn’t leave the rest of the show to the young fan, although he later gave her a signed guitar as a keepsake.
When he returned to belt “Feel That Fire,” he incorporated the fan-favorite moment into the lyrics: “that girl wanted to play my guitar in the Oklahoma City show.” It was one of many Oklahoma name-drops Bentley worked into his set, and while they predictably evoked enthusiastic screams from the multitude, the performer seemed to have a genuine affection for the Sooner State.
Before going acoustic with “Settle for a Slowdown,” Bentley noted that Ronnie Canada, father of his pal Cody Canada of the bands Cross Canadian Ragweed and The Departed, was in the audience.
“Cody is the reason I wear this hat. He gave me this hat a couple of years ago. I think of him every night. We don’t get to hang out as much as we used to, but he’s one of my best friends,” Bentley said.
“Ronnie reminded me that the last time we played OKC, my mom and dad were here ... now my dad is no longer with us. So thanks for being here on this special night and being part of the tour.”
Bentley, who is working on his seventh studio album, even offered up new music with the earnest ballad “I Hold On.”
“If I had to describe myself to a complete stranger ... it would be this song,” he said.
The sexy come-on “Come a Little Closer” got the ladies singing and swaying, the high-octane “Sideways” put everyone in a party state of mind, but it was Bentley’s bluegrass number “Up on the Ridge” that brought the set’s biggest mood shift. With the lights smoky and shadowed, he and his band mates gathered on the top tier of the stage and absolutely threw it down against massive video projection of a moonlit forest.
Still, Bentley saved the best for last, closing with his patriotic hit “Home.” Standing amid spotlights resembling moonbeams, he encouraged the fans to light and raise their cell phones, beautifully filling the arena with simulated starlight as his devotees crooned along with the uplifting anthem.
“There’s something special about Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thanks for always make us feel at home,” he said.
Playing her adopted home state, Lambert was not about to be outdone by her tour mate. Accompanied by Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls),” her video introduction paid homage to strong women from the Queen Bey herself and Reba McEntire to Annie Oakley and Patsy Cline and set the stage for the riotous opening salvo of “Fastest Girl in Town,” “Only Prettier” and “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round.”
Strutting around the stage in a sparkly silver skirt, leathery black lace-up top and knee-high black boots, tossing her recently shortened and straightened blond locks and showing off her signature stomping-and-spinning dance moves, the Texas native was the epitome of womanly confidence. But she soon proved she wasn’t afraid to show her vulnerable side.
"All my in-laws are in the house tonight, so forgive me if I start crying," the Tishomingo resident said as her band began playing her heartbreaking hit "Over You."
She didn't even make it into the first verse of the ode she wrote with her husband, Blake Shelton, about the death of his brother before she was overcome with emotion. Fortunately, her faithful fans knew every word and were more than willing to belt them out, so she simply held out the microphone and let them sing as she wiped away tears. Her devotees shouted out encouragement as she took a deep breath and took over on the second stanza.
“Thanks for the help, y’all. Hells bells, I’m already crying. ... Crying equals drinking and drinking makes sure we’re gonna have a good time tonight,” she quipped, sipping from a black insulated cup and then launching into her heartfelt chart-topper “Heart Like Mine.”
Alternately wielding an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar and a microphone — all in pretty shades of pink — the singer-songwriter boldly mixed her new hits like “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Baggage Claim” with her older favorites like “Kerosene” and “New Strings” and stirred in a couple of fun covers for good measure. After giving a cowbell a few good introductory whacks with a drumstick, she growled through a sexed-up rendition of Mountain’s rock classic “Mississippi Queen,” and she later showcased her band as she drawled the Beatles’ galloping number “Get Back.”
“I brought some of the girls from my store in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, with me tonight,” she said, referring to her clothing and gift shop The Pink Pistol. “Somehow, we’ve managed to make that little town famous.”
She dedicated “Famous in a Small Town,” which clearly resonated with many of her Sooner State devotees, to her adopted hometown. Video footage of the Oklahoma flag, homegrown superstars like Vince Gill and Johnny Bench, the Oklahoma City Thunder logo and signs from various local bars drew appreciative yells, but the University of Oklahoma logo provoked a mix of cheers and boos.
“Let me tell you something: I’m from Texas, so y’all just calm down,” she admonished the “house divided.”
After her band played a bit of the cowboy standard “Red River Valley” as a lead-in, the fans were united in their adoration of Lambert’s Grammy-winning ode “The House That Built Me,” which she crooned fervently.
“I know you have a million ways to spend your hard-earned money, and we appreciate you spending it on country music tonight. I’m just an everyday average country girl doing what I do best and that’s sing to people. But I’ve got my insecurities and I’ve had my share of people tell me I’m not good enough or pretty enough or skinny enough. ... I want everybody here to believe in yourselves,” she said, encouraging the throng to really listen to her story-song “All Kind of Kinds,” with its theme about accepting people’s differences.”
She shared more life lessons — “My daddy taught me two things: How to use a shotgun gun and that it’s never OK for a man to hit a woman” — before scorching through her fiery closer “Gunpowder & Lead.”
But she and her band didn’t keep the screaming crowd waiting long for an encore, keeping it sassy with her first career No. 1 hit, “White Liar.”
“I love my daddy and my brother and I’m happily married,” she said, although Shelton unfortunately didn’t put in an appearance. “But it’s our job to keep you guys in line,” she added, evoking shouts of agreement from the ladies in the audience as she launched into her impressively soulful “best white-girl version” of Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
And she closed the concert by inviting the two men who opened it for her — Brice and Bentley — and various members of their bands — one of whom surreally donned the mask of a Cox Communications "Digeez" mascot — for the spirited bluegrass sing-along “Bad Angel,” an entertaining romp Lambert and Jamey Johnson recorded with Bentley for his 2010 album “Up on the Ridge.”
Lambert and Bentley will bring their highly recommended “Locked & Reloaded Tour” back to Oklahoma for an April 13 show at Tulsa’s BOK Center. Canadian country singer Corb Lund will take over the opener slot for Brice, who is getting married next month. For more information, go to www.bokcenter.com.