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Kacey Musgraves, Hampton Court Palace, London live review

The country star returns to the UK to play at Hampton Court Palace Festival.

Kacey Musgraves has been one of the most popular artists with UK country fans ever since she first burst onto the scene back in 2013 with her debut album, ‘Same Trailer Different Park’. Since then she’s released a further four studio albums – winning the Album of the Year Grammy for her 2018 record, ‘Golden Hour’ – as well as writing music for Miranda Lambert and the TV series ‘Nashville’, appearing in her own Christmas TV special and working with the likes of Troye Sivan and the Flaming Lips. Now she’s back in the UK for the first time since October 2018, in support of her latest album ‘star-crossed’, including a stop at Hampton Court Palace just outside London.

Dressed in an amazing sparkly jumpsuit, Kacey took to the stage with her band following a gospel/dance remix of ‘When Doves Cry’ that harked back to the classic 90s film ‘Romeo + Juliet’ (which she later mentioned was a big inspiration for ‘star-crossed’). She kicked off her set with her new album’s title track, a dreamy synthesised ballad tinged with Spanish-influenced guitars, soaring harmonies and bittersweet lyrics about signing divorce papers, dividing possessions and changing names. It was a really atmospheric start to the show and sounded brilliant against the backdrop of the historic building, with the synchronised lighting up of the crowd’s wristbands adding a modern contrast to the performance.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of Musgraves’ 90-minute set was dominated by tracks from ‘star-crossed’. She ran the absolute gamut of post-breakup emotions, from reminiscing on the past and trying to hold on in the wistful ‘good wife’ to a nostalgia for the worry-free times of childhood on ‘simple times’, via the Japanese-influenced, sparse ‘cherry blossom’. For me the highlight of this section was ‘breadwinner’, a tongue-in-cheek female empowerment banger Musgraves dedicated to Henry VIII, which saw her pair her delicate vocals with sharp beats and spiky lyrics before bringing out a money gun and scattering fake notes across the crowd. It got the crowd dancing and singing along – although to be fair they hadn’t stopped for the whole show, with plenty of encouragement from Musgraves herself – and felt like a really powerful moment.

That said, there was still plenty of the ‘old Kacey’ on show in the performance. Her ‘Golden Hour’ section, which saw her picking up her acoustic guitar and performing centre stage, showed that she has the skills to deliver a beautiful love song on the title track and the gentle, lilting ‘Butterflies’, both of which felt perfect for the late summer evening. Elsewhere, ‘Lonely Weekend’ took on a new, hopeful quality, whilst ‘Space Cowboy’ provided one of the more introspective moments of the set – the audience singing every word just added another level – and ‘High Horse’ kicked up the fun factor as she donned a cowboy hat handed to her by a fan and her band’s guitar straps lit up with rainbow lights. She also looked like she was having a fantastic time up on stage, dancing around the stage with her band and cracking self-deprecating jokes about the train strike and Glastonbury, as well as talking about her previous trips over to the UK and how much she loves spending time here. It was really nice to see and suggested she’s grown increasingly accustomed to being in front of a British crowd.

One particular stand-out moment was Musgraves’ solo acoustic performance of ‘Merry Go Round’. For me she’s often at her best when she strips things back, and hearing her sweet, clear voice ring out around Hampton Court over the gentle melody, coupled with her storytelling talents, was just a magical moment. I also loved her two covers – she threw in a glimmering version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ that saw her hit some impressive high notes as well as laughing at herself when she messed up the lyrics, alongside her take on the Elvis classic ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ (which features on the soundtrack of the new ‘Elvis’ film). Her rendition of the song had a gorgeous, lush feel to it with an utterly heartbreaking delivery – you could really feel the emotion in her voice and it had me crying from the off.

Musgraves closed the main portion of her set with the yearning, frank folk-pop of ‘justified’ before moving into ‘there is a light’. She went full-out on the song’s celebratory feel, jamming out with her flautist before setting the crowd’s wristbands to light up in a rainbow of colours and releasing her trademark balloons over the audience. It was a huge high to end on and had the crowd roaring with cheers and applause, calling for her return to the stage. She then brought things down with a singalong version of ‘Slow Burn’, giving the song a real sense of optimism and starting over, followed by a piano-led rendition of ‘Rainbow’, which highlighted her vocal tones beautifully. I got chills from the crowd singing along on the acapella final chorus and it felt like a perfect way to finish the show.

Overall Kacey Musgraves delivered a stunning performance that showed how much progress she’s made as a performer and set out a clear direction of where she wants to take her music. Early in the show, she told the audience to ‘drop all politeness [and] let your freak flag fly’, and judging by the singing and dancing going on it certainly felt like they did. If I had one small criticism, it would be that I’d have liked to hear some more songs from her first two albums – I’m still waiting for the tour where she plays ‘Dimestore Cowgirl’! But overall it was a fantastic night with great showmanship, gorgeous vocals, clever lyrics, and tons of fun. She promised she’d always make time to come back to the UK and personally I can’t wait to have her over here again. Let’s just hope she can stay a little longer next time!

Set list: 1. star-crossed 2. good wife 3. cherry blossom 4. simple times 5. breadwinner 6. Golden Hour 7. Butterflies 8. Lonely Weekend 9. Space Cowboy 10. High Horse 11. camera roll 12. Can’t Help Falling In Love (Elvis Presley cover) 13. Merry Go Round 14. Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover) 15. justified 16. there is a light Encore: 17. Slow Burn 18. Rainbow Performance date: 23rd June 2022

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