Two days after Christmas, with DC still twinkling with incandescent and holiday rainbow lights, recently Grammy-nominated Margo Price brought her no-bullshit attitude, incisive lyrical wit, and irrepressible joy to the 9:30 Club stage.
With seven people in the Pricetags (I remember discovering her songs on Tumblr some years ago), a kilowatt smile, and a penchant for wide-angle themes narrowed to a pinpoint, it’s hard to imagine Margo does anything small.
As the story goes, for nearly anyone who knows her songs, Margo (with her husband Jeremy Ivey also in the band) rolled the dice on, well, everything, hocking her wedding ring and a car to pay for sessions at the legendary Sun Studios (the birthplace of rock and roll, for the uninitiated). They did everything they could just to keep truckin’, keep movin’ along.
Those sessions resulted in Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, released in March 2016, and suddenly Margo became an overnight sensation and the darling of Nashville (although if you asked any of the musicians in Nashville at the time, she was already everyone’s darling for the decade-plus she’d been a fixture — a kind of human glue on the scene). She played the late-night circuits, tore through festival season, and came out the other side ready to record her next album.
Stream Midwest Farmer’s Daughter by Margo Price on Spotify:
Recorded live, All American Made rings true, heavy, and hard to anyone who sits with it and listens closely. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t reward casual listening! I have played it in the background and watched as heads bop casually during conversations, feet tap along to the honky tonk blues at the baseline of some of these songs. With All-American Made, Margo seems less focused on telling her own story — and as already hinted before — takes a wide-angle approach, dipping a touch farther into the politics of her earliest band with Jeremy (Secret Handshakes) while maintaining the stomp of Buffalo Clover and the fully-formed fusion rock and roll of the Pricetags.
The album is fundamentally American, almost historical in a way, but still relevant to the current age, galloping along like cowboys on the plains. Stream All American Made by Margo Price on Spotify:
Lilly Hiatt prepared the stage for Margo and her band, tearing it down and building it back up with joy and heartbreak of her own. The band traipsed onto the stage as Janelle Monae played over the speakers, picking up their instruments to lay down the tracks for the freight train about to thunder through the club for an hour and a half.
Margo joined the stage dressed in a green sequin dress and shimmery boots after the rest of the band settled into a groove, breaking into a rollicking “Don’t Say It,” during which Margo had to go to a different mic while Jamie Davis laid scorching guitar line after guitar line. The adoring crowd roared and sang along, from small children (the youngest I met at just four years of age) to folks some might consider old, eliciting smile after smile on the stage. Her husband Jeremy joined the band last. and they slinked into the country gospel of “Do Right By Me” with Margo leaning into the micstand and singing with wild abandon.
Next, Margo sang a crowd-favorite “Tennessee Song,” bringing the audience to old Nashville with hints of whiskey, honky tonk, and that carefree, quick-living attitude slowly being soaked up by high rises in Music City. No members in the audience failed to take a step back in time with Margo, shouting “Let’s go back to Tennessee / you and me” as loud as their voices permitted until Margo ended the song with an extended yawp. As the audience tried to recover, Margo high-beamed on the stage, mentioned her “condition,” pointed to her husband Jeremy, and led the band through Loretta Lynn’s “One’s on the Way” with one hand under her belly, changing at least one lyric to mention Cardi B.
Margo engaged the audience thoroughly throughout the night, dedicating “A Little Pain” to one fan and “Hands of Time” (a standout on the night) to another. Additionally, during the chug-a-lug singalong of “Four Years of Chances,” as the band rippled into a jam, Margo slipped behind a second drumset and jumped straight into the groove with drummer Dillion Napier.
The band left the stage and Margo floated to the keys (usually populated by Micah Hulscher), where she sang a rousing, almost-painful version of “All American Made,” an old song from the Buffalo Clover days made new, as class-conscious and aware as anything ever written in a song. With lyrics like, “I wonder if the president gets much sleep at night / and if the folks on welfare are making it alright / I’m dreaming of that highway that stretches out of sight / That’s all American made,” it felt as though she sang to the White House.
Right after the song, Margo shared that some folks have expressed a dislike for it, assuming it’s a takedown of the current president, but she stated she tells people who don’t like it, “I wrote it during the Obama administration.” As one of the loudest political voices in country, Margo didn’t shy away from expressing her views, either on that stage or at any other time.
Throughout the rest of the show, Margo and the Pricetags played through some unreleased songs, including a song about Jesus being a traveling musician, as well as closing the night with a pair of covers — Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” followed by Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” By the end of the set, the well-engaged crowd bounced out of the club starry-eyed and ready for the new year.
Here are some more photos of Margo Price and her band, the Pricetags, at 9:30 Club on Dec. 27, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Matt Ruppert.