On the back of top four US album Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves made a Swift return to the UK after C2C triumph. Simon Rushworth reports.

Flanked by her three biggest fans – an ever-present backdrop to a stunning stage production – an ever so slightly coy Kacey Musgraves promised the masses out front that she’d always come home to country.

However, the ambitious singer songwriter is no yee-whore to a genre that’s already seen Taylor Swift eschew her roots for a tilt at pop success. And if the country was up front and personal for long periods of a triumphant show then an upbeat encore hinted at Musgraves’ ultimate destiny – a 70s disco party featuring an NSYNC cover and Soccer Mommy cameo signalling a concerted and unashamed play for the mainstream.

Purple Reign

With glittering new album Golden Hour sowing the seeds of promise or doubt – depending on your personal viewpoint – it’s clear that one of the most exciting talents on the US scene already has one eye on taking the Swift route to mass appeal. It’s a modern pop record underpinned by broad brushstrokes of country but live, at least, the album’s most affecting songs lean more heavily on Musgraves’ recent past. A quite brilliant band, delivering pin-sharp pedal steel, classy keys and achingly authentic strings, ensured the traditionalists among a sold-out Sage Gateshead crowd had their fears somewhat assuaged. Nevertheless, the shimmering light show, Musgraves’ sequinned trousers and vocals painstakingly tuned for the digital age kept pointing back to the future, again and again.

And why not? No longer the baby-faced talent show wannabe, Musgraves means business. Newly married, into her 30s and with a top four US album under her belt it’s time to get serious and it’s in the hugely likeable Texan’s favour that country is no longer a genre bound by stifling tradition. Crossovers with rock, pop and punk have become increasingly prevalent and Musgraves has never lacked the ambition to push her own artistic boundaries. Renowned for her edgy lyrical content – often at odds with country’s traditional themes – it’s time to mix it up musically.

Wonder Woman

As if to prove the point, Slow Burn, Wonder Woman, Butterflies and Lonely Weekend ushered in a set that screamed confidence from start to finish. That Musgraves played Golden Hour in its entirety – rather than rely on the tried and tested back catalogue run through – signalled her intent. The time is now for one of country’s regular risk takers to take it to the next level and her bold new music represents a brave new dawn.

Sure, Family Is Family and Follow Your Arrow are still the standout songs on any Musgraves setlist and both inspired collective and heartfelt singalongs. Significantly, however, large swathes of the capacity Sage Gateshead crowd were also word perfect when it came to the best of the new tunes. Where Musgraves is keen to lead it appears the majority are still happy to follow.

Whether that’s still the Kace if and when Swift Mk2 completes her seemingly inevitable transition from country queen to pop princess remains to be seen. Watch this space (Cowboy).

It Mus Have Been Love

Exclusive images courtesy of Adam Kennedy