This one's for the boys: Martina is a slim, trim and married 40-year-old mother of three with the pipes of a world-class diva.
As much as our city's self-esteem could use some inflation and positive reinforcement, let's acknowledge that Martina McBride chose to open her 2007 North American tour in Kansas City on Thursday. Thank you for liking us, most famous native of Sharon, Kansas.
As much as our self-esteem doesn't need any deflation, we'll ignore the possibility that she chose a place almost near her hometown because she figured the friendly crowd wouldn't mind or notice the nicks, dents and glitches that usually afflict the first night of a long tour. She had family in the place, too: Her cousin was sitting behind me.
As much as we don't always like to hear the truth, here it is anyway: The crowd wasn't huge (about 9,000) but it was loud and full of love.
The show wasn't absolutely perfect, but it was entertaining, mostly because the lady from Sharon is one of the best singers in popular music. Several times, she ignited long, loud and sincere cheers after showing off her considerable vocal skills -- a notable feat in a place like Kemper Arena.
She has as much power, agility and soul in her voice as anyone, including women who are more famous than she: Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Faith Hill or Shania Twain.
McBride brought along a seven-piece band that included her brother, Marty Schiff, who filled in for Keith Urban on the duet "Tryin' to Find a Reason," one of the new songs. Her set list comprised 22 songs. The show suffered a few lulls, mostly when she performed cuts off her brand new album, "Waking Up Laughing." But songs like "Happy Girl," "This One's For the Girls" and "Independence Day" snapped the crowd out of its couch-potato mood and inspired some dancing and singing-along.
One of the best parts of the show came early, when she pulled four songs off her splendid "Timeless" album: "Thanks A Lot," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden" and "Stand By Your Man."
McBride has earned her fame and made her fortune singing slicked-up modern country, but she is a traditionalist at heart, and she showed it resoundingly during those numbers; "Stand By Your Man" was especially spectacular.
During two more covers, she again showed off the power, range and dexterity of her nimble voice: the Dusty Springfield hit, "Son of a Preacher Man" and, her only encore, Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." She respected the original versions of both songs, but gave each her own accent and twist.
Next week, McBride will be the guest mentor on "American Idol," and, no offense to Tony Bennett, but she'll be this season's best guest performer by far. She's not really from here, but if you want to claim her as one of ours, go ahead. Thursday night at Kemper, surrounded by family and fellow Midwesterners, she seemed to feel right at home.
Setlist: Do It Anyway; When God Fearin' Women Get the Blues; Wild Angels; My Baby Loves Me; Tryin' to Find a Reason; How I Feel; Happy Girl; (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden; Thanks A Lot; I Can't Stop Loving You; Stand By Your Man; Concrete Angels; For These Times; I'll Still Be Me; Son of a Preacher Man; How Far; Where Would You Be; If I Had Your Name; This One's For the Girls; Broken Wing; Independence Day. Encore: Bridge Over Troubled Water.
The openers: Rodney Atkins and Little Big Town opened the show, and both were way-above-average opening acts. Atkins is another deep-voiced, raw-boned T-shirt and ball-cap country boy who sings about the rewards of small-town life. The crowd was real familiar with most of his material, including the title track off his most recent album, the country/Celtic romp "If You're Going Through Hell," and the amusing "Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)."
Little Big Town was even better. They reprise the country-rock sounds of the early 1970s but give it a SoCal twist. At its best, their music sounds like a combination of the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Pure Prairie League.
| Timothy Finn, The Star