REVIEW: Thomas Rhett – Live At O2 Academy, Birmingham

It’ll be a long time until we see a line-up as prestigious as this on tour. Thomas Rhett’s rise to stardom has been phenomenal and he continues to rise through the ranks, whilst Old Dominion have established themselves as one of the hottest new acts in the genre and have made their mark on the charts with 4 smash-hit #1 songs. With a C2C appearance already in the bag and an ever-growing profile, Old Dominion are in a position to headline a UK tour themselves, albeit at slightly smaller venues. Seeing these 2 on the same night was a must-see show, and they delivered in abundance.

Old Dominion completely raised the roof and it was probably the biggest reaction I’ve ever witnessed for an opening act. I suspect it’ll be their last time in the UK as an opening act too. It was a relatively short set but they had enough time to throw in all of their big hits including ‘Snapback’ and ‘No Such Thing As A Broken Heart’, as well as a few fan favourites from their ‘Meat and Candy’ album and their recent ‘Happy Endings’ sophomore album. Personal highlights were ‘Hotel Key’ and ‘Be With Me’, 2 of the catchiest, most energetic tracks from the latest album that had the whole room dancing along, as well as the fan-requested ‘Shoe Shopping’ with its seriously infectious chorus. They’ll be packing out the O2 Academy themselves before too long.

You know what you’re going to get with Thomas Rhett; it’s not a country show by any stretch of the imagination. Lady A aside, I can’t remember many occasions where I’ve seen a saxophone player play such a prominent role in a ‘country’ concert. With covers of Bruno Mars’ ‘24K Magic’ and Justin Timberlake’s ‘Suit and Tie’ thrown in along the way, I can’t work out whether TR wants to be a boundary-pushing country artist or whether we’ll eventually see him move away from the genre completely. It took the word ‘diverse’ to a whole new level.

That’s not to say I didn’t embrace the show – I thoroughly enjoyed it and you have to respect TR for his immense energy and stage craft. He demands the attention and his warm nature seems to connect with fans like few others do. He kicked off the show with his 2015 smash hit ‘Crash and Burn’, stripping the track back and adding a cool soulful twist to draw us in. This was followed by ‘South Side’ which cranked up the energy levels and got the Brummie ‘Home Team’ in the mood for a party!

My one complaint would be the relatively short set length; I think most of us would expect at least a 90-minute show. 75 seemed a little short-lived. With that being said, it was sufficient for TR to cram in all of his hits and to showcase some of the material from his incredibly genre-defying new album ‘Life Changes’. ‘Grave’ was a particular highlight – a truly anthemic track with its singalong hook, as well as the quirky title track ‘Life Changes’ – “I wrote a little song about holding her hand and now everybody wanna die a happy man!”.

There were moments, as mentioned before, where some of the ‘country’ aficionados would have switched off. ’24K Magic’ works on a Saturday night in Birmingham but I think there’s only so much of it that the country faithful will tolerate over time. God bless the girl who requested ‘Beer With Jesus’ at the meet and greet before the show. It was by far the stand out moment. This is where TR becomes a frustration for me – he’s capable of writing absolute timeless classics like this but often wastes the talent on throwaway pop tracks. Ask yourself – in 15/20 years’ time, how many Thomas Rhett tracks will you still be listening to? For me, this is one of those songs. ‘Die A Happy Man’ is another, and it provided another one of the show’s spine-tingling moments. The crowd sang a chorus by themselves, and Thomas received an almost 2-minute long applause after. Stunning.

It’s amazing what an impact a C2C appearance and a spot on the Radio 2 playlist can do for an artist, and Thomas Rhett is reaping those benefits. Not many country artists can fill up the O2 Academy like this, and I can only see that progression continuing in years to come. The crossover appeal is massive. Whilst he’s still within the realms of country (just about!), we should be immensely proud of what Thomas is doing over here, and long may it continue.

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_UK