There’s a long-standing rock and roll concert cliché for a band to pronounce that [Insert City] is the best city they’ve ever played. Rarely though do you have the opportunity to hear an artist proudly announce that this is her first headlining show. That is the furthest thing from being cliché. In fact, it’s a big deal for artist and audience member alike.
And that’s exactly what Angaleena Presley delightedly declared to an appreciative crowd at the Ram’s Head On Stage on March 12th, stating, “I’ve played The Staples Center (with the Pistol Annies), but this means more to me.”
Presley, better known, for now, as a member of the Pistol Annies with Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert, spent the next hour introducing the room to music from her stunning and honest solo debut American Middle Class.
Holler Annie and her four-piece band delivered the goods by kicking off the performance with a rowdy blues-infused country rocker “Ain’t No Man” into her first single, “American Working Class.”
Slowing it down with “Dry County Blues,” the Kentuckian in her hushed drawl told the tale of the potential pitfalls of growing up in small-town U.S.A. Presley sings, “There’s good Christian women, locking their front doors. Praying their daughters don’t turn into meth whores. While their sons are out drinkin’, and drivin’ and tryin’ to get laid.”
While introducing the laid back everyman song “Grocery Store” Presley explained, “It’s about how we’re all in this together. No matter how much money we make, we all go to the grocery store.” “All I Ever Wanted,” a plucky mid-tempo country song about the devil caught the crowd (and possibly Presley) off guard at the end with an exceedingly loud guitar screech which lit the band into some serious rocking out.
Next up was a song Presley co-wrote with “a friend” (Lambert) – “Fastest Girl in Town.” Presley acknowledged that her version was just a bit different and it certainly was, as she turned it into a sultry and frisky joyride with eyes wide open and toothy smiles for miles.
What followed next was perhaps the most apt two songs to ever segue into each other. Just as they were sequenced on American Middle Class Presley played what she called the morning after song, “Life of the Party” into “Knocked Up,” of which she explained, “This is about how I met my ex-husband. He gave me the best surprise I’ve ever got.” The rock-tinged “Drunk” completed the cycle telling the story about how her “little family ended.”
Many lessons are learned through Presley’s songwriting, some more subtle than others. The bittersweet “Better Off Red” (and by “Red” she means “Redneck”) tells the tale of life on the road and being homesick for the simpler things. Musically, the ballad lilted across the room until gradually building to a fitting crescendo at the end almost snapping the protagonist back to her own reality. “Blessing And A Curse,” with it’s fun old school country vibe, spoke of finding balance in your life and appreciating what you have.
Presley closed the set with the brutally honest country rocker “Pain Pills,” a song about a small town where high school quarterbacks and minister’s daughters succumb to a crippling pill problem and attempts to keep the “news” hush hush is only fueled by gossip and ultimately more consumption.
Presley and her band’s two guitar players returned to the stage for a one-song encore. Before starting the somber “Surrender” she plainly stated “the hardest thing to do is not do anything at all.” The end-of-a-relationship song is a black cloud of hopelessness where the only way out is simply to surrender. Not exactly the most uplifting way to end a night, but life isn’t always about happy endings, and for a little over an hour Angaleena Presley provided the crowd in Maryland’s “small-town” capital with a glimpse into real small-town life, the good, the bad and everything in between.