For all of her sad songs, Margo Price puts on a fun show.
Touring behind Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, her debut solo album from last March, Price played to a packed Turf Club on Thursday. She performed a one-woman #MicroShow at the Turf back in June, and she stopped in town just two weeks ago to join Jack White on “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)” at A Prairie Home Companion (she’s signed to White’s Third Man Records). This time, she brought her full band to St. Paul to help celebrate the seventh anniversary of United States of Americana, The Current’s 8-10 a.m. show with Bill DeVille.
“I’ve had this show for seven years,” DeVille told the audience while introducing opener Darrin Bradbury. “Wouldn’t be possible without you.” Bradbury took it from there, loosening up the crowd with tunes such as “The Denim-Clad Acid-Washed Man,” “All My Best Friends Are Cigarettes,” and “The Almost Great Lakes.” His game is part satirical, part all too real; when he stays in motels, he says, they should be “really s—ty” — “partially for budget and partially for inspiration.” “I really want to like Kerouac right now,” I wrote in my notebook after a few songs. Go figure: Bradbury’s closer was called “Life Is Hard,” and its subtitle goes, “The Ballad of Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce, and Daffy Duck.” Price hopped on stage for that one and the penultimate song, “Frying Eggs (The Roadkill Song).”
Bradbury’s dark humor played out all too well in an interaction next to me. “Is it all right if I start with a love song?” he asked. “Anybody here in love?” At the bar, a man raised his hand with a smile, and he looked over to his (presumed) significant other. Her hands stayed folded. The man put his hand down, and Bradbury strummed his guitar, beginning “True Love” with, “Our love is like the meth lab in your mother’s basement.”
In her set, Price dialed the satire way down, running through a wide-ranging suite of honky-tonk tunes. She went acoustic for a couple of songs, including “Pick n’ Save.” She mixed in several covers, including “Red Bandana” by Merle Haggard and Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This.” She played her hits: “Tennessee Song,” “Since You Put Me Down, and “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” (part of which she sang from the dance floor).
One of the beauties of Price’s music is how simple yet engaging it manages to be. The storylines are well-trod, but music about struggle will always come in handy. Price’s voice is smooth — I caught myself trying to parse her methods (honey-lemon tea?) — but never fails to grab me. The music’s accented notes pop up exactly where you’d expect them, but they’re delightful nonetheless. The tension of her interesting yet unpretentious music lends Price the tautness of her musical predecessors, which has many fans comparing her to Americana greats of old.
Actually, Price got to perform with one such great musician since we saw her in June. At The Current’s #MicroShow, she covered Kris Kristofferson’s “Me And Bobby McGee” to celebrate Kristofferson’s 80th birthday. Exactly one month later, she was giving an interview at Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, and a friend texted her: can you perform the song with Kristofferson in 30 minutes? “It was only because Patti Smith was stuck in traffic,” Price admitted, laughing. But their duet sounded great, and Price brought the cover back for the first of her three encore songs on Thursday.
Price joined United States of Americana’s sixth birthday celebration last year, opening for Pokey LaFarge at the Fine Line. In the several months since then, she’s become one of country’s buzziest names, and she could have sold out a bigger room. That said, the Turf was a superlative venue for Price; while she sang and strummed away at her guitar, the St. Paul bar’s warm lighting, several Summit tap handles, and overall coziness just felt right.