In the Grammy-winning song "The House that Built Me," country superstar Miranda Lambert croons tenderly about revisiting an old, familiar dwelling in order to rediscover her former self.
Although the career-defining song is now six years old, its sentiment seemed to reign over Lambert's "Certified Platinum Tour" stop on Thursday in Dallas. Believe it or not, the show marked her first time headlining at American Airlines Center — a momentous occasion for a Texan who grew up in Lindale, just 80 miles from here. Lambert was happy to point that out to the healthy crowd of thousands in front of her, many donning their finest boots.
At this point, a large arena show shouldn't faze the 31-year-old singer, who's hit the heights of country music fame and is the only woman up for this year's ACM Entertainer of the Year award. But something about being so close to home made her nervous, she later admitted. And for the first several performances of her 21-song set, we could tell.
Lambert seemed slightly tentative, even if her vocals were on point, during the upbeat tunes "Fastest Girl in Town," "A Heart Like Mine" and "Baggage Claim." And the audience wasn't giving her the energy she deserved in the beginning: Instead of letting their eyes meet hers when she stepped to the front of the stage, fans hoisted up their phones to record. Talk about a missed connection.
Another early hiccup: Lambert's 7-piece backing band threatened to drown out her vocals in the sound mix for a handful of early songs, including the tear-jerker "Over You."
But somewhere between her diversity-celebrating anthem "All Kinds of Kinds" and a sensational cover of the Wilson Pickett soul classic "In the Midnight Hour," Lambert finally rid herself of the butterflies and settled in for what turned out to be a memorable homecoming show.
After the crowd leapt up and sang along to "Mama's Broken Heart," the singer told them all they needed to know: "I was really nervous, but I'm better now."
Lambert took a seat, gave the band a break and strummed her pink acoustic guitar on "Dead Flowers." Everyone around me began to lean in -- that voice of hers is something to behold when it's allowed a little breathing room.
She explained that she'd been thinking about her formative years playing small gigs in local clubs like Adair's and the old Gypsy Tea Room.
"It all started with a girl and a big ol' dream," she said. And then Lambert took a seat, gave the band a break and strummed her pink acoustic guitar on "Dead Flowers." Everyone around me began to lean in — that voice of hers is something to behold when it's allowed a little breathing room.
A couple of songs later, two stools were placed at the front of the relatively simple stage (for which an oversized video screen served as a backdrop), and there was suddenly a buzz in the crowd. A wide-eyed woman to my right asked her friend, "Is Blake here?"
And just like that, Lambert answered the query by inviting her hubby, Blake Shelton, out for an acoustic duet. Before they performed his old single, "Austin," Shelton bragged on his wife, calling her "the most important country artist in music today." As he gushed, she blushed: "OK, honey."
After Shelton exited to thunderous applause, Lambert finally sang "The House that Built Me." I was a little surprised that she didn't get emotional, as she'd done a few years ago at Gexa Energy Pavilion. But those eyes didn't stay dry for long.
There's a verse from last year's hit single "Automatic" about driving all the way to Dallas to buy an Easter dress. She got to that particular line in the song Thursday, and couldn't even bring herself to mouth it. She moved the mic away from her face and let the crowd sing it as her tears flowed.
If there was ever a smidgen of doubt about the authenticity of this woman, that moment erased it. "Automatic" employs that same sense of unapologetic nostalgia that endeared many of us to Lambert when she crooned about an old house.
That's not to say her pistol-packing-mama side was ignored. When she pushed out the sass on "Little Red Wagon," "White Liar" and "Gunpowder and Lead," giddy females in the audience sang along with verve.
The crowd enjoyed two more nods to Texas during the night's encores: Lambert was joined by backing singer Gwen Sebastian (from The Voice, natch) and opening act Sunny Sweeney on a cover of the Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away;" then she rocked out to the tune of ZZ Top's "Tush."
Coming home always has its ups and downs, but for Lambert on Thursday night, there was nowhere to go but up. I'll be glad to see her back here next month for the ACMs. Perhaps the next set of tears will fall over an Entertainer of the Year victory.