Review: Martina McBride starts summer tour at the Garde

June 15, 2018

We were the first. Country star Martina McBride told the crowd Thursday at the Garde Arts Center in New London that the concert here was the first on her summer tour.

Not only that, but Garde executive director Steve Sigel said that fans from nine states had flocked to the theater for the performance.

McBride, backed by a skillful band, seemed happy to be back on tour. She came across as genial and gracious, happily shaking hands with fans who crowded to the lip of the stage after her main set and then again after the encore. During “Anyway,” an older couple strolled down the aisle and slow-danced at the front of the auditorium. McBride smiled and told them after that they looked good dancing together.

Throughout the evening, McBride didn’t stint on her greatest hits, bringing out affirmation anthems (“This One’s for the Girls,” “Happy Girl”) and dramatic overcoming-challenges story-songs (“Independence Day,” “Concrete Angel”).

McBride’s best-known numbers in the 1990s and 2000s showcased her superhuman range, dipping to soulful lows and then peaking at skyscraper heights. She used to hit those high notes with laser-like precision and control. On Thursday, though, she didn’t land some of those high notes well, and her voice wavered occasionally when reaching for them.

If her upper register could feel a bit off Thursday, her lower was often still full of velvety richness.

And her songs still touch listeners. She spoke about how she’s met some amazing people because of “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” the number about a woman diagnosed with cancer whose husband provides invaluable support. (Among the lyrics: “When you feel lost and scared to death … Just take my hand, together we can do it.”) McBride said people have shared with her what the song means to them.

McBride introduced “Diamond” (sample lyrics: “Cause baby you’re a diamond, yes you are / You’re always going to cut through … They’re never gonna break you”) by discussing how women wear a lot of hats and try to care for everybody and be perfect — but it’s OK not to be perfect.

McBride, 51, offered some personal notes, too, mentioning that she has been married for 30 years and that her daughters are now ages 23, 20 and 12 (the latter came up as she was leading into “In My Daughter’s Eyes”).

McBride looked great, dressed all in black — black sparkly jacket over a black top, black leather-like pants — and accented with a killer pair of silvery glittering shoes with red soles (Louboutins? I’d imagine so).

A little more visual panache was added by what looked like an LED screen behind the band that depicted crackling lightning during “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues” and floating rose petals for “Rose Garden.”

For the encore of her nearly 1-1/2-hour show, McBride interestingly went for a trio of pop songs: Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.”

The most popular tunes of the night, though, remained McBride’s own; “Independence Day” and “A Broken Wing” both inspired a good part of the audience to offer a standing ovation.

Opening act (and New Jersey girl) Abbie Gardner, who accompanied herself on dobro, combined a sweet voice with deft songwriting. She offered this amusing real-life story: She said she comes from a musical family and was on a pre-med path in college. When she decided to forgo the medical world and become a singer, her mother was very happy. Based on Gardner’s clear love of performing, her mother was onto something.