They don’t come much more Country than rising Nashville born and raised star Kelsea Ballerini, even though the 24-year-old grew up on a diet of pop, only delving into Country later on. And that might explain her catchy, hook-laden pop-country tunes that had her named CMT’s Next Woman of Country back in 2014.
Appearing on stage in a star-spangled blue cut-off dress, silver hot pants and sparkly heels, if we didn’t already know that Lady Antebellum where the main act tonight, Ballerini could easily have been mistaken for the headliner, breaking straight into her first single and biggest hit Love Me Like You Mean It with the energy and presence of a veteran.
“Is it okay if we play some new music for you tonight?” she asked of her audience, many already on their feet in the all-seated arena, before breaking into sophomore record Unapologetically song Roses, Ballerini making full use of the massive arena stage, reaching out to the crowd to the left and right during the up-tempo pop ballad.
“London! How are we doing?” she screamed at the crowd. “It is my second time here, I am obsessed with you and I’m so happy to be back, playing at The O2!” before requesting the crowd sing along with hit 2015 single Dibs, Reid Johnson’s guitar solo adding the rock to the country-pop tune.
Speaking about writing her second record she said: “I wanted it to be about everything that’s changed since the first one came out”. “The biggest change is that I’m newly engaged” she continued to cheers from the audience, introducing new album cut I Hate Love Songs, going on to sing it kneeling on the huge O2 Arena stage.
The new album’s title track Unapologetically was up next, the huge screen backdrop adorned with footage of Ballerini and fiancé (and Country music star) Morgan Evans, the ballad closed out with the opening lyrics to Elvis Presley hit Can’t Help Falling In Love.
“Where are my girls at?” the 24-year-old screamed, before dedicating Stilettos to the female contingent, Ballerini strapping on a guitar for the downbeat tune, it’s chorus oddly reminiscent of Miley Cyrus’ hit Wrecking Ball. Crowd participation was encouraged by the Nashville resident for recent UK single XO, the faster tune enhanced by Ballerini rocking her black Gibson Les Paul guitar and even joining her drummer with a stick of her own, the energy high at The O2 before the band departed the stage.
A short, stripped-back covers section followed with Ballerini strumming an acoustic guitar while weaving the tale of her first heartbreak through snippets of James Bay hit Let It Go, Justin Bieber smash Sorry and One Republic’s breakthrough single Apologize, the tale concluding with the band returning to the stage and kicking off hit single Peter Pan, Ballerini prompting the crowd to light up the arena with their mobile phones.
The set was rounded out with latest single Legends, announced by Ballerini as being released in the UK this week, before being closed out with 2016 single Yeah Boy, the crowd requested to be upstanding for her last song for the last night of the tour.
It’s clear to see why Ballerini is here tonight, opening for arguably one of the biggest Country acts of today but bringing her own star power to The O2 stage. While her first trip across the pond might only have been a few months back, playing at Chelsea’s Under The Bridge venue, she’s clearly destined for bigger and brighter things.
Ballerini returns to The O2 next March where she’ll play alongside the breadth and depth of today’s Country acts as part of the sixth C2C music festival, headlined by the king and queen of Country Tim McGraw and wife Faith Hill, Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town.
Live review and photography of Kelsea Ballerini @ The O2 Arena by Kalpesh Patel on 10th October 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate