Written by Dave Clements
May 18, 2012 at 08:00 PM
ImageI had photographed Martina McBride a few years ago at the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo. That experience was not positive due to the rather onerous release I had to sign just to take her photo. So when I heard she was performing a new show, Eleven (named after her latest album), at The Arena Theatre I went with the attitude that she was going to have to redeem herself this time around. After the rodeo incident, I rationalized that Big Star, Big Draw had it’s privileges. After watching the performance at The Arena on May 18th I’d observe that just maybe that Star has moved into a falling direction. 

Martina took the stage and brought her beautiful smile. wonderful vocals. and a repertoire of hit songs. Even some of the new ones from the new album had catchy lyrics and were received well by the audience, myself included. What she didn’t bring was many fans of her music. Houston’s multi million population – patrons in attendance approximately 1200. She also failed to bring a band that looked like they gave a flip about entertaining the audience. Their bored expressions said it all as they in my judgment basically mailed it in all night long. Perhaps she brought the second string since revenue for the show had to be very light?
Ms. McBride was somewhat engaged with her audience, or at least it appeared she was trying to be. One big thing that just didn’t fit for me (besides the lackluster band members) was her statement early in the evening that she had ASKED her manager to start booking these smaller, more intimate venues versus the stadium shows she performed at the height of her career.

ImageIt was too obvious she wanted us to believe that she would rather play for a thousand for a few thousand dollars rather than playing for large crowds for tens of thousands of dollars per night. With the same amount of overhead each night? Right! It’s plausible I suppose that she was trying to get her own head around this idea of career decline so she could deliver an inspired performance. Certainly nothing wrong with that..most peope have to deal with that concept at some point in their life. By the way, I am only touching the surface on her ‘sales pitch’. I might have bought it if she sat on a stool with one guitar player beside her and gave us an inspired intimate acoustic show. That would have brought it all together and would have been, frankly, very refreshing.

Another significant distraction was her acknowledgment of the ever present ‘freebird’ sector of the audience. You know what I’m talking about. She responded to the first of the ‘let’s shout out to artist between songs’ idiot which, of course, had many others chiming in full force. And she was feeding that fire! I can only conclude this was her failed attempt to back up her ‘I asked for smaller, intimate venues’ mantra. I personally think this behavior is rude and a performer should not encourage it. In fact, if they persist, quickly put them in their place and get back to entertaining. That’s what your audience paid for! 

All the interruptions and interaction was soon followed by Martina’s invitation to a 14 year old girl to join her one stage. The inference was that it was spontaneous but that didn’t seem to work with the audience either and I sure wasn’t buying it. It might have been a nice touch to invite a young local performer to join her, introduce them, give them a hand up. Local ‘on the way up’ Savannah Berry and Kathryn Hallberg both come to mind, Houston’s own, either right down the street and about the same age. Again, Martina missed an opportunity for a grand slam moment, instead we were treated to an infield single, at best!!!

ImageBefore launching into another cut from her new record, Eleven, Martina shared that the album was titled Eleven because it was her 11th studio album, contained 11 songs, and was released on October 11, 2011. Hmm…okay, so….? Some of the new stuff she played was good, but I’m sure not wowed by this album name. Neil McCoy just released XII, his 12th album. More creativity in naming these might have net better sales! 

Martina’s performance was at it’s most animated when she sang her hit ‘Teenage Daughters’. The audience was delighted at the lyrics and tone of this song, especially when she notes that having teenage daughters causes one to need a drink. I can relate! Catchy and accurate!

Unfortunately, she hit the wrong note again as she introduced the song she ‘most wishes she had cut but didn’t’, Rod Stewart’s ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’. She may like this song but it certainly didn’t flatter or fit her voice. She followed with Tom Petty’s ‘Free Falling’ and it sounded equally awkward. Ironically the performance of these two covers was one of the only times her band came alive, harmonized, and interacted with one another!

On a closing note, Marina will be opening for George Strait at Reliant Stadium (along with the Randy Rogers Band) on the last day of Rodeo Houston next March 16th.. This may be a more fitting gig for Ms. McBride at this stage in her career.