GIG REVIEW: Dan + Shay – Live At O2 Institute, Birmingham

It’s always a good sign when approaching a gig to see the queue snaking back along Digbeth High Street. Dan +Shay were back in town and the regular centre-front attendees had come out early. 5.30pm and the line stretched over the road.

Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney made their Birmingham debut at the Institute, albeit in the smallest room at the very top of the building, three years ago. Pauper Kings were supporting and the guys played an acoustic set to about 80 people.

Three albums in, numerous chart hits, and it all looks very different. The sold-out signs have been going up all over the country for this tour and the national media is starting to take an interest. They will be appearing on the Steve Wright show on Radio 2 next week. This time it was the main room and Devin Dawson was supporting

I saw Devin last October supporting Thomas Rhett in London. We met up with him pre-show and he told us that he was excited to be playing his first show in the UK with his full band. A mixture of apathy from Thomas Rhett’s fans and a set list that went a little overboard on the rockier side of his material meant that his reception was mixed.

His debut album ‘Dark Horse’ was released a year ago, an album that offers a lot. As with most support acts however, there’s a lack of recognition for the album cuts in the live shows. He was supported in Birmingham by a lead guitarist and an acoustic guitarist which meant that the rock elements were toned down.

The album has its share of superior tracks. It really doesn’t get much better than ‘Asking For A Friend’ and ‘Secondhand Hurt’, but it was the single ‘All On Me’ that received the best reaction. See, it’s that recognition thing again; I think a lot of the audience realised that they had actually heard of him when he sang his only chart hit. He finished with the autobiographical ‘Dark Horse’. The man in black who doesn’t smile in pictures.

I know he sees himself as someone who can tour the UK as a headliner. That time may come, but he needs another album to establish himself hopefully with more hit singles to rely upon. Keep an eye on him – this guy has immense raw talent.

The model to follow is Dan + Shay.  They had a top 10 hit single with ‘19 You And Me’ in 2013, a modest follow up with ‘Show You Off’ but hit big again with ‘Nothin’ Like You’ which reached #1 on the US Country Airplay chart.

Their live show draws from all three albums, and such is the brilliance of their songwriting, that every song is instantly familiar. They don’t do fillers, nor do they significantly change the dynamics of the song. A live show from these guys captures the essence of the studio recording.

A four-piece band including a very mobile and energetic bass player created the magic.

The first two tracks from their debut album ‘Where It All Began’ were the aforementioned ‘19 You And Me’ and ‘Show You Off’. They were the openers tonight. It was immediately obvious that the Birmingham crowd had come to sing every single word of every single song.

I’ve recently attended gigs at this venue from significant US Country artists. Old Dominion, Luke Combs, Kip Moore, Drake White included. They were extremely well received but none surpassed the adoration that the Birmingham crowd had for Dan + Shay.

It was awesome to hear tracks from the latest album performed live. ‘All To Myself’, ‘Make Or Break’ and especially ‘Alone Together’ are surely future singles.

‘From The Ground Up’ also included the almost regulatory marriage proposal from a couple front left!

The guys have recently been out on tour with Rascal Flatts, and they included in the setlist the song that Shay penned for the veteran vocal group ‘I Like The Sound Of That’. LeVox or Mooney? To even be compared with Gary LeVox in the vocal stakes is praise indeed, but there is surely no greater singer than Shay Mooney in commercial country music today.

The guys also covered Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ in the middle of their three song encore which raised the energy levels up another notch before the show ended with the song that seems to have become the Dan + Shay anthem, ‘Tequila’.

The song was extended due to an impromptu chant of “Dan and Shay…Dan And Shay” from the crowd which continued for about a minute. The guys’ reactions were awesome. A special moment in a special show.

Sometimes you see a performance that you just know elevates the performers to the next level. This was that performance. Sadly for us, I suspect that they are growing out of venues like the Institute.

Graham Wharton

Set List:

19 You and Me
Nothin’ Like You
All To Myself
Alone Together
Show You Off
Keeping Score
From The Ground Up
Make Or Break
What Keeps You Up At Night
Stupid Love
All Nighter
I Like The Sound Of That
Can’t Say No
How Not To
Lately
Speechless
Can’t Stop The Feeling
Tequila