Wynonna Judd, Friday night at the Arena.
Back when she and her mother, Naomi, were the hottest country act in the land, Wynonna Judd often seemed put off by her mother’s ultra-feminine antics.
Judd even invented a word for that kind of performer - “prissy-butt.”
It’s a name no one will ever use to describe Wynonna Judd.
Dressed in a dramatic black suit, her red mane flowing, Judd strode mightily onto the Arena stage Friday and climbed right into a gospel-inflected mid-tempo rocker, “Heaven Help My Heart.”
Then she strapped on a guitar and tore off a chunk of rowdy Texas soul, Delbert McClinton’s gritty “Somebody to Love.”
“Love ain’t no good till you give it away,” she growled. It took her about 30 seconds to break her first guitar string.
Backed by three horns, a hot rock ‘n’ roll band and a three-voice gospel choir, Judd took command of the Arena Friday.
“Thank you and welcome to my party,” she crowed. “I have a reason to celebrate - I’m back, baby, and it’s good to be singing again.”
Judd took time off in June to have her second child - “I’ve been home changing diapers, and that’ll humble your butt real fast” - and she sang like a woman happy to be alive.
She teased with the audience, inviting a fellow onstage to dance - “What is it?” she asked, assaying his leg-swinging style.”
When a one-time acquaintance named Kevin dropped a note at her feet, she ordered him back to the stage. “Am I forgetting you?” she demanded. She made him take his punishment: he had to play the foil for her bluesy, woman-done-wrong show-stopper, “Only Love.”
“I was your woman,” she wailed, “but you threw me away.”
Judd touched on her past only once, during a lovely acoustic set. She sat on a stool at the front of the stage, surrounded by by her singers and guitarists, and sang a handful of songs associated with the Judds - including affecting versions of “Grandpa” and “Maybe He’s Crazy.”
But Judd is determined to move beyond her past. Like other women in Nashville, she refuses to play the role that was ordained for her. And while country music is the poorer, she’s opened some big, new vistas for herself.
BlackHawk opened Friday with a set of garden-variety arena rock. Led by former Outlaws singer Henry Paul, the three-year-old Nashville group specialized in histrionics and cheerleading. Their unsubtle style blunted some fine material, though “Sure Can Smell the Rain” somehow survived.