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Lambert, Bentley, Brice save the best for last

Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, N.H., March 3, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
What do Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and Lee Brice have in common with Yogi Berra? Well, it may seem quite odd that the three country singers and baseball's grand philosopher have anything in common, but as Yogi once opined, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

In the case of the show before a nearly sold-out arena crowd, Lambert, who headlined the gig, Bentley and Brice proved the adage correct because they saved the best for last.

After a pedestrian set by Brice, a somewhat satisfying set from Bentley and the best performance of Lambert seen in this parts by far - but not without its flaws - the assembled on stage backed by a slew of their musicians, for a rendition of Bentley's Bad Angel from his bluegrass- based "Up on the Ridge" CD. The song was the most different by far on this evening with softer sounds ranging from Dobro to upright bass and acoustic guitar dominating (the backing players stood lined up behind the headliners with Angaleena Presley of Lambert's side project, Pistol Annies helping out on vocals), and the mainstays getting into the heart of the song. No rock guitars, generic sounds or strained signing.

In the fact, the toned down style suited the three quite fine. This was not the first time, of course, that Bentley and Lambert teamed up because the two recorded the song together. Bad Angel proved to be a great close to a generally good evening of today's country music.

Brice ran through some of his hits in a short set that lasted about 20 minutes. He's not all that country-based (or at least for what use to be called country), aiming for more of a rock sound with a lot of emoting.

Bentley had jus short of 70 minutes on stage, too short a time for him given the strength of his material. The problem was that his set felt rushed in going from one hit to the other. The time constraint also meant he left out some excellent songs he typically plays like So So Long. Bentley knows what he's doing on stage with a strong voice, but he just didn't have enough face time to avoid the rushed atmosphere.

He also was plagued by a lousy sound mix with a very muddy bottom sound with the bass and a steady pounding of the drums. The songs tended to rock way too much for someone of Bentley's breadth of material because his history is not one of being a rock artist masquerading in country.

Bentley has been a tried-and-true performer in the past, but didn't quite reach either of those yardsticks on this evening. Give him more time - as in stage time.

Lambert, whose star has risen greatly in the past few years, has been a bit of a conundrum in the past. Her releases clicked when it came to the material, but when it came to playing it live, Lambert was an unfortunate victim of thinking that more was more as in more volume and loud, screaming guitars.

In fact, Lambert changed it up on this evening during her 75 minutes for a gratifying night. The material remained top shelf with songs ranging from the start Fastest Girl in Town to her latest single, the traditional sounding Mama's Broken Heart and Only Prettier to the excellent ballad The House That Built Me to the harder edged Baggage Claim, That's the Way The World Goes 'Round and Famous in a Small Town.

But Lambert's twangy voice was not always up to the task. She wavered a bit here and there on the notes and proved to be a far better singer when she went slower and softer (read: less rock-flavored songs). She was vocally sufficient on covers of Mountain's very bluesy Mississippi Queen and The Beatles' Get Back, but it was a bit of a head scratcher as to why she included either one. Lambert would have been far better served to offering more of her own material instead.

One got the sense that Lambert is a headliner-in-progress. She doesn't quite have the easy stage patter beyond the very generic. Nor is she a big personality like Mr. Miranda Lambert (Blake Shelton). And with a powerful voice at least on her recordings, one would have expected her to be more on target live. Nevertheless, it was most gratifying to see Lambert heading in the right direction.

And that was perhaps never more apparent than the best song of the night. You just had to wait awhile to get there.