It’s one thing to pour out your heartbreak in the recording studio, where you can hone a lasting statement, be done with it, and move on. It’s another to take it on the road and have to deliver it fresh night after night. At a sold-out TD Garden Thursday night, Kacey Musgraves seemed to know it, too, taking an early opportunity to tell the crowd, “We’re gonna have fun, even though the album is pretty depressing.”
Indeed, the night’s setlist was cannily constructed, focusing (with two differently anomalous exceptions) exclusively on her two most recent records. Taking a stage shaped like a beating, breaking heart, Musgraves swam around in the warm late-’70s melancholy of her divorce album, “star-crossed,” for six songs before the major-key uplift and half-swung acoustic chug of the title track from its swoonier predecessor, “Golden Hour,” arrived like a major-key, sepia-toned flashback to happier times.
Although “Butterflies” kept things percolating at a steady, happy clop, even the “Golden Hour” selections began to turn, showing that the seeds of trouble were always in plain sight. The slow swirl of “Space Cowboy” and the disco strut of “High Horse” were kiss-off songs that led right back to the present day with the pedal-steel weeping of “Camera Roll” and country-folk guitars of “Hookup Scene.”
Within the context of the rest of the concert, a solo-acoustic “Merry Go ‘Round” from Musgraves’s debut was a rare misfire, a snapshot of others rather than a first-person internal dialogue. Perhaps that’s why her audience-chosen cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” worked so well. Or maybe “Dreams” is just that indestructible. But “Justified” closed the book on bitterness and anger for the night, clearing the way for a brighter path forward.
Throughout, Musgraves wasn’t a force onstage, merely a woman singing with little pretense, regardless of the flaming hearts, confetti cannons, and a money gun that ran empty almost as soon as she fired it. (Her laughing abandonment of the prop was a nice moment of unscripted humanity.) But in many ways, that was her overwhelming strength as a performer, gaining authority by being the focus of the recognizable frustrations of everyone who could relate to her lyrics. Closing songs “Slow Burn” and “Rainbow” were quietly hopeful and patient, looking to the future and finding it close enough at hand to offer comfort.
Whether bouncy and electronic (but with the feel of humanity behind it) or wide-open arena country with huge prairie-harmony choruses, opener MUNA’s fine, brief set shared with Musgraves an expression of strength through shared vulnerability. King Princess followed with a combination of churning, chiming indie rock and electronically-fused indie pop, and if her triumphal confidence felt calculated and a little unearned, there was enough raw material for her to one day close that gap.
With MUNA and King Princess. At TD Garden, Thursday
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.