REVIEW: Thomas Rhett – Live At The O2 Ritz, Manchester

img_3149It was a family affair at the O2 Ritz on Sunday. Following his huge Single Of The Year win at the CMAs last week for ‘Die A Happy Man’, Thomas Rhett is paying his UK fans a visit with his very talented father, Rhett Akins. He was limited to a 40-minute set at C2C back in March, and I felt this wasn’t sufficient and it only showed us a snippet of what Thomas is capable of. It was a real treat to finally see a full show from one of the hottest acts in Nashville right now, and he certainly delivered.

Papa Rhett opened the show in style; I think I said half way through his set that “he’s the best support act I’ve seen”. He really was the perfect opener, showcasing his numerous song writing credits on what seemed like #1 hit after #1 hit. He started with his own 1995 hit ‘That Ain’t My Truck’, but after that his set was dominated by hits other artists have recorded. We were treated to the likes of ‘When She Says Baby’ and ‘Tonight Looks Good On You’ (recorded by Jason Aldean), ‘Honey Bee’ and ‘Boys Round Here’ (recorded by Blake Shelton) and his most recent claim to fame, ‘Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day’ (recorded by Luke Bryan). He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the second he walked on stage, and I’ve never witnessed a support act receive such an incredible reaction at the end. I loved every second of it.

Thomas came bouncing on stage just after 9pm, kicking off proceedings with ‘Anthem’, closely followed by his #1 hit ‘Make Me Wanna’ and ‘Tangled’. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a country show by any means but you have to admire how he’s made the genre so accessible for the younger generation. He turned the place into a party from the second he walked on, and the Manchester crowd lapped it up. I thought he might save his new single ‘Star Of The Show’ for the encore but it was thrown in pretty early; I think it’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded and it’s surely destined to be another smash hit. It sounded even better live than it does on the record with really heavy bass and sublime use of electric guitars.

The best part of the show was the acoustic section, where 3 stools were brought on stage and the setup suddenly became very stripped back. Thomas began this section with the gorgeous ‘Beer With Jesus’ from his first album, which has always been a personal favourite and is up there with the best songs he has ever written. You could have heard a pin drop, and Thomas’ vocal delivery was spot on. The CMA-winning single ‘Die A Happy Man’ followed, which got everybody in the room singing along and the phone lights appeared everywhere you looked. Then, he brought out his 2 guitar players for a rendition of Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Round Here’, a song that I suspect has delivered a fair amount in royalties for TR over the years!

There were a couple more covers thrown in along the way, including ‘Cake By The Ocean’ (DNCE) and ‘Friends In Low Places’ where Thomas invited a woman in the crowd onto the stage to sing the final verse and chorus. Always a brave move to take on a Garth classic but his Manchester fans embraced it and it cranked up the volume another notch. He certainly knew how to get the crowd going and his charisma and energy on stage was infectious throughout. Some artists just have that knack of connecting with everybody in the venue, and Thomas has perfected that to a tee.

#1 hits ‘It Goes Like This’ and ‘Get Me Some Of That’ were also highlights, and of course ‘Crash and Burn’ which ended the set. Thomas was then welcomed back on stage to wild applause, performing ‘Vacation’ which, although it’s by no means a classic (that’s putting it mildly), I can’t deny that it’s a good live track and it seems to be a guilty pleasure for many. He then brought his father back out for a performance of Lee Brice’s ‘Parking Lot Party’ which brought the evening to a close.

Thomas Rhett has, and always will, split the crowd when it comes to country traditionalists and the newer generation of country fans. I do wonder how ‘country’ he genuinely wants to be, and he’s often used as the poster boy for the bro-country bashers. But whether his style is for you or not, he’s a terrific performer and it’s no surprise that he’s become such a massive star. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, fun night of music and let’s hope he’s planning to return sooner rather than later.