Only four songs into her headlining set at the Times Union Center on Saturday night, and Miranda Lambert was crying.
Her voice cracked slightly and she began wiping her eyes as she hit the second verse of her hit “Over You,” with the full house singing along to every word at full-tilt. By the time the chorus swung around again, the audience was singing the song for her as she grinned, covering her mouth. She came back in for the song’s close as the audience cheered, successfully delivering one of the most emotionally bare moments of the evening.
This heartfelt song was the exception rather than the norm at this rollicking show. The full house came to party, and Lambert and second-billed Dierks Bentley didn’t disappoint, turning in fiery performances heavy on hard guitars, arena rock moves and fun sing-alongs.
Lambert and her five-piece band kicked off their 70-plus minute set shortly after 9:30, immediately pumping up the crowd with “Fastest Girl in Town.” “Only Prettier” and “That’s the Way the World Goes ’Round” kept the energy high and the rock star attitude on simmer, as Lambert spat out her lyrics with cocky abandon.
The funky groove of “Baggage Claim” helped change the pace up a little, and showcased the band’s versatility. Later in the set, the almost Gypsy-sounding groove of “Mama’s Broken Heart” further set Lambert’s set apart from what came before.
Two covers proved to be highlights of the whole show — a rocking “Mississippi Queen” gave guitarist Scotty Wray a chance to really dig in, while Lambert had some fun singing The Beatles’ “Get Back” late in the evening. But best of all was the hard rocking “Kerosene” close to the end of the set, with the heraldic guitar riffs framing Lambert’s powerful bellow.
Bentley spent a good chunk of his hour-long set dodging women’s underwear that was thrown onstage, at one point commenting that the crowd had hit some kind of record (it didn’t seem as if he was complaining — during one song he played with a bra dangling from his guitar’s headstock). The scene certainly fit the party-hardy atmosphere that was quickly being established for the show, as Bentley and his five-piece band rocked hard and long through a generous 14 songs.
Bentley set the mood early with set opener “Am I the Only One,” rallying the packed house to attention. For most of the set, the crowd was on its feet, singing along to hits such as “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” and “5150” as the band ripped through the songs with muscle and energy to spare.
The group was at its best when it toned things down for a few acoustic numbers mid-set, beginning with the ominous campfire groove “Up on the Ridge.” Bentley and crew stripped down even further for “Settle for a Slowdown” up next, turning the ballad into a bluegrass-tinged jam that upped the country quotient in the group’s mostly Southern rock-inspired set.
Lee Brice kicked off the show just before 7:30, easily winning over the already packed house by turning up the everyman charm and the guitars. His six-song set had more in common with Bruce Springsteen than Hank Williams, with anthemic keyboards and snarling power chords turning songs like “Beer” and set closer “Love Like Crazy” into Southern-fried arena rock anthems.
Brice was mostly in party mode — even the love song “A Woman Like You” mentioned beer — but he toned things down for “I Drive Your Truck,” an emotional power ballad dedicated to the troops that got the crowd shouting along.