Her admirers at her appearance at WaMu Theater last Friday were a fascinating mix of Red State seniors, rowdy rural rockers, well-heeled gay men and a sprinkle of Dolly-emulating rockabilly sirens. Given her iconic status and gregarious demeanor, I figured the show would be a treat, but I had no idea she would prove to be not only one of the most generous performers I’d ever seen, but a classically talented stand-up comedienne with letter-perfect timing.
After each and every song, she stopped to tell another tale, many of which were presumably tall, but uniformly charming. Her description of her magical childhood idol (“I think the term would be ‘the town tramp’), with her mesmerizing red toenails and towering lucite high heels (“They had those itty-bitty plastic goldfish in them!”) was particularly endearing, as was her plucky assertion that “Jolene was a real woman who tried to steal my man! And sometimes now I think I should get a hold of her and see if she wants him back!” In case there was any mystery about why her latest album was called “The Backwoods Barbie” tour, she offered a tutorial Q&A: “How do you know if you’re a Backwoods Barbie? If your dream car is a pink corvette—and it’s up on blocks in your front yard!” In a sly nod to her devoted gay fanbase, a shirtless, country-boy slice of beefcake helped her change out her instruments, passing her a rhinestone-encrusted dulcimer and periodically jigging around her.
All the glittery staging and witty banter could be an entertaining show by itself, but the music didn’t disappoint either. She hit all the classics in a carefully paced set (well over two hours including the intermission), bringing down the house in particularly smashing form with her a cappella version of the title track from 2001’s return-to-roots masterpiece, Little Sparrow. By the time she got to her traditional “I Will Always Love You” closer, the crowd had been on its feet for nearly four songs, and didn’t budge till she came back for her encore, the spiritually impassioned “Jesus and Gravity.”