Live Review: Lainey Wilson @ Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne

21 March 2024 | 3:03 pm | Monique La Terra

“The country music renaissance has a warrior queen, and her name is Lainey Wilson.”

Lainey Wilson

Lainey Wilson (Credit: Alysse Gafkjen)

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The country music renaissance has a warrior queen, and her name is Lainey Wilson.

Armoured with her signature bellbottom jeans, a wide-brimmed hat and commanding lyricism, Wilson expertly braids heartfelt, down-home country with southern ‘70s rock, the result of which has resonated with audiences around the world – including in Melbourne.

Her Aussie orientation kicked off a week ago when she posted a hilarious video of Keith Urban driving her to the airport, warning her about snakes and redbacks. During the carpool, she even revealed that her grandfather used to call her “Sheila”, solidifying her connection with Australia.

The first of Wilson’s two concerts in Melbourne was a celebration of all things country, and the crowd was happily dressed for the occasion with cowboy hats peppered throughout the venue.

Knocking back beers by the tray, the audience was hankering for a good time when the show kicked off with Kameron Marlowe. From a General Motors car parts salesman to a platinum-certified artist, Marlowe’s rising star has taken him from North Carolina to Nashville. Following a stint on the American version of The Voice in 2018, Marlowe released his debut album We Were Cowboys in 2022 before appearing at Stagecoach last April.

Blending country and blues with his gritty, Blake Shelton-esque vocals, Marlowe and his three-piece band treated the crowd with songs including Burn Em’ All, Strangers, Girl On Fire, Tennessee Don't Mind, and the hit single Giving You Up.

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Australians love an outlaw, and by the outpouring of applause following Jackson Dean’s set, his electric brand of nostalgic country hit a chord with the crowd. Having made his Australian debut last October, with headline shows in Sydney and Melbourne, Dean understood how to charm the crowd, throwing compliment after compliment at them, but they were on his side regardless. Hailing from Maryland, Dean’s char-grilled accent was so thick it felt rebellious to listen without a passport, and that combined with his vivid, lyrical imagery gave his whole performance a cinematic quality.

Backed by a four-piece band, the set was guitar-driven and every track was a standout. Crowd-pleasers included Fearless, the touching ballad Heavens To Betsy, Don’t Take Much and Don’t Come Looking, which has over 200 million global streams and featured on Paramount’s Yellowstone.

Fresh from her dazzling Australian debut at CMC Rocks, Wilson arrived onstage for the first of two dates at Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena. Dressed in her signature retro style, Wilson wore bellbottoms with a turquoise belt buckle, a horse print shirt beneath a fringed, leather vest, and as per usual a wide-brimmed hat.

The reigning CMA Entertainer Of The Year opened her set with Hold My Halo – a song about embracing your wild side and true to the sentiment Wilson embraced one of Australia’s most bizarre traditions, guzzling back a shoey or what she termed a “holler and swaller.”

Hailing from a town of 200 people in Northeast Louisiana, Wilson is unapologetically a redneck and that aspect of her personality shined during performances of Hillbilly Hippy and Smell Like Smoke, while her earnest, southern drawl gleamed on Heart Like a Truck, Things A Man Oughta Know, and her latest release Country’s Cool Again.

WWDD (short for What Would Dolly Do?) felt anthemic and empowering live onstage. Just as impactful was the energetic Road Runner which expanded into an instrumental session, as did the song Rolling Stone. Throughout the night Wilson joined in on guitar and both with and without it, Wilson exuded confidence, roaming the stage with the swagger of a seasoned performer.

Stylistically, Wilson’s voice is like your favourite pair of faded blue jeans—chic, timeless, and effortlessly cool and on no song is that more apparent than the bittersweet mega hit Watermelon Moonshine featuring a chorus from Deana Carter's Strawberry Wine. Furthering Wilson’s love for the ‘90s was a cover of What's Up? originally recorded by 4 Non Blondes.

One moment that wasn’t on anyone’s Bingo card was a surprise guest appearance from Jet frontman Nic Cester, who performed Cold Hard Bitch and Are You Gonna Be My Girl with Wilson. “I bet y’all weren’t expecting that,” Lainey said following their duet.

A self-proclaimed story farmer, Wilson paid tribute to her roots with the blazing song Wildflowers And Wild Horses. Featuring an overture of Ghost Riders In The Sky by Stan Jones, the song brimmed with nostalgia and imagery of the American West.

Another of the show’s highlights came during the introduction to Atta Girl, when Wilson shared her empowering daily mantra. “I am beautiful. I am smart. I'm godly. I'm fearless. If somebody tells me I can't do it, hold my beer. Watch this,” Wilson declared, acknowledging all the young girls in the crowd.

Throughout the show, Wilson signed boots, hats, and posters for those along the barricades and seemed genuinely grateful to be on tour so far from home.

To the casual country music fan, Wilson seems to epitomise the phrase “overnight success” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. She buckled down for the good part of a decade before finally breaking into the big time with the release of her third and fourth studio albums in 2021 and 2022 respectively and has dominated the genre ever since with six ACM’s, seven CMA’s, and a Grammy under her bedazzled belt.

Bless her bellbottoms.