Kacey Musgraves @ Whelans - 11-10-2013

Kacey Musgraves at The Academy, Dublin on July 10th 2014

So on the week that we’ll undoubtedly refer to as ‘Garth Brooks Week’; where an ageing country star sold out five nights in this country’s largest venue only to then have the rug pulled out from under him, it’s a crying shame to see an under-capacity Academy play host to one of country’s brightest rising stars.

For those who don’t know, Kacey Musgraves is a country artist currently on her fourth album and on the verge of a major jump into the mainstream. Her latest album ‘Same Trailer Different Park’ saw her snag a grammy from under the nose of none other than Taylor Swift and also hit the road playing support to Katy Perry. To put her recent rise into an Irish context, she has gone from Whelans to the Academy in a mere nine months.

She reminds us of an early Alex Turner with her razor-sharp observations on life. But where Mr Turner would use his lyrics to bring us into his grey world of mid-noughties Sheffield, Ms Musgraves paints pictures of modern trailer park life in middle America. Warts and all. The whole thing is wrapped up in such a sweet melodic manner that you often have to do a double take, like on Merry Go Round with “Jack and Jill went up the hill, Jack burned out on booze and pills and Mary had a little lamb, Mary just don’t give a damn no more.”

Now we’ve been to The Academy a few times and thought we’d seen every setup imaginable. Everything from Two Door Cinema Club bringing in an arena worth of lights to the murky, backlit setup for Wild Beasts. But a trio of neon cacti? That’s a new one. It’s accompanied by a western sunset backdrop that sets us up for a dusty Texan feel.

On record the songs sound fantastic, but live they take on another life altogether. The dusty, banjo tinged It Is What It Is swells and soaks over those in attendance as Musgraves sings of a ballad about casual sex (“But I ain’t got no one sleepin with me, And you ain’t got no where that you need to be, Maybe I love you, Maybe I’m just kind of bored”). Blowing Smoke (the fist pumping anthem about life in a dead end job) packs a far weightier punch live than on record.

The majority of tonight’s tracks are taken from ‘Same Trailer’ with a few choice covers sprinkled throughout. Turns out that TLC’s No Scrubs lends itself surprisingly well to a dusty, dirty makeover. Her own tune Step Off is subtly morphed into a Jamaica-via-Nashville cover of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.

For the encore her band return to the stage with their jackets now dotted with dancing LEDs, whilst Musgraves has the same LEDs dancing across her cowboy boots for a cover of These Boots Are Made For Walking. She seems to be having too much fun for it all to be ironic.

Her on-stage banter is grateful and sweet with local touches dotted throughout the set. Everything from sampling the local cuisine before the show (apparently having a boxty before hitting the stage is a bad idea) to thanking a group of girls in the front row for bringing her to the mall before her first ever Dublin show to buy some curling irons. It all comes across as genuine and unrehearsed from someone who still seems shocked to have this many people come to see her.

Musgraves closes the show in the most stripped back manner possible. Her and her five piece backing band, huddled around a microphone for a short acapella cover of Roy Rogers’ Happy Trails. It’s an intimate closer to what we imagine will be her last time playing a venue this small on these shores.