The growth of country music in the UK and our immense fortune for seeing so many of our beloved acts was epitomised by the recent ‘You Look Good’ world tour. Never would I have expected to see a line-up consisting of Brett Young, Kelsea Ballerini and Lady Antebellum just 20 minutes down the road. It almost felt like a local mini-C2C. After seeing Lady A at venues like the Brooklyn Bowl and the Manchester Apollo, arena gigs don’t quite feel the same for me and they’ll never have the same magic, but Lady A have deservedly made their way to that level and it’s a pretty awesome spectacle after following the band for around 8 years.
Brett Young kicked off the evening’s entertainment. What a year this guy has had; a smash hit with ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’, 100,000+ album sales and shows with the likes of Brad Paisley and of course, Lady A. It was blatantly obvious, however, that much of the audience weren’t familiar with Brett at all, hence my gripe with arena gigs. As he reeled off ‘Sleep Without You’, ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ and ‘Like I Loved You’, all top 20 radio hits, the atmosphere was rather flat which was such a shame. For goodness sake, people, if you’ve got your tickets within seconds to be in that front block, at least show these artists some support! With a stunning cover of ‘Hallelujah’ thrown in as a beautiful showcase of his soulful delivery, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and accomplished set from one of country’s most exciting new artists. Give this guy a few years and he’ll be a mega-star, especially with the backing of Mr Borchetta and the Big Machine gang.
Next up was Kelsea Ballerini, who in all honesty stole the evening! Having seen her headline at the intimate Under The Bridge earlier this year, it was great to see Kelsea and her band let loose with their big arena offering, and (yeah!) boy did she deliver. She gave us a mix of fan favourites from her debut album such as ‘XO’, ‘Dibs’, ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ and her final song ‘Yeah Boy’, as well as a large slice of the new album, including the phenomenal ‘I Hate Love Songs’. It has a ‘Girl Crush’-style melody with some very clever lyrics, showcasing Kelsea’s immense talent in terms of the whole artistry package. ‘Roses’, ‘Unapologetically’ and her current radio single ‘Legends’ all sounded awesome in the arena and got fans well and truly prepared for the album launch. Kelsea’s got it all – stage presence, flawless vocal delivery and charisma in abundance.
Then, it was time for Lady A. These guys are partly to thank for my introduction to country music (alongside Zac Brown Band), and there aren’t many acts who can cut it in concert like Charles, Hillary and Dave. This was a set list to accommodate the loyal, long-time fans (hands up!) as well as the new converts, with a mixture of old fan favourites and a selection of new material from their chart-topping ‘Heart Break’ album. They began with ‘Downtown’ from their ‘747’ album, bringing the party atmosphere from the off and getting everybody on their feet, followed by one of my all-time favourite Lady A classics, ‘Our Kind Of Love’. I always worry about the omissions from their set list now they’ve had such an illustrious career but thankfully (aside from ‘Hello World’), most of the old singles were thrown in.
‘This City’, my personal favourite from the new album, sounded even better live than on the record with its thumping backbeat and singalong chorus. This was soon followed by the title track of the new album ‘Heart Break’, which is also their new single and surely destined to add to their list of radio successes. But it wasn’t long before the old favourites made a return, including a wonderful mix of ‘Compass’ with ‘We Owned The Night’ and of course, ‘American Honey’ which Hillary said was still the most-requested song at the meet and greets.
Personally, my favourite moment was their acoustic section, with Dave on piano. Hillary’s flawless vocal on ‘Hurt’ completely stunned the arena into silence; this is Lady A at their absolute best. I was totally lost in the moment. And as if it couldn’t get any better, out came Kelsea and Brett for a rendition of Shania Twain’s ‘You’re Still The One’ which has become a recurring feature of the You Look Good World Tour that the fans simply adore.
One of the surprise aspects of the show was the inclusion of some of Justin Timberlake’s brass section, who came into their forte with the powerful ‘You Look Good’. However, there were times where I felt their presence was unnecessary, particularly on ‘Our Kind Of Love’ where I’d have preferred to hear the song I love without being drowned by trombones. That said, I’m sure it’s only a one-off and I can’t knock them for exploring their musical capabilities. Just personal preference I suppose.
After taking us right back to the beginning of Lady A with ‘Love Don’t Live Here’, the trio returned for an encore. Yep, you guessed it…’Need You Now’. Suddenly the casual fans in the audience piped up and the arena was rocking at long last. Still to this day a terrific song (no matter how much Heart FM have destroyed it with their hourly rotation!). They closed the show with a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Learning To Fly’ which seems to be the cover of choice at the moment, having seen Kip do it the week before. If you’re going to cover a classic, you damn well better sing it as well as Charles does. Stunning.
These guys never fail to impress, and it was awesome to experience their big arena show locally. It’s a testament to the growth of the genre in the UK to have 3 big-hitters making the trip across the pond together, and long may it continue. All in all, another thoroughly enjoyable night and hopefully it won’t be too long until they return.