With the rising popularity of Country music in the UK, it’s no surprise that more and more acts are making the trip across the pond, from up and coming acts playing smaller venues to the heavy hitters playing the UK’s largest stages. And this week it was the turn of Country trio Lady Antebellum, comprised of Nashville native Hillary Scott alongside Augusta, Georgia boys Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood.
While they may not be known as an arena-topping act to most outside of the US, they have still managed to reach the top 10 of the UK album charts with three of their albums and the top 20 with two more – all of their albums bar their latest peaking at #1 on the UK Country charts. They’ve even squeezed in a headline appearance at the 2015 C2C Country Music Festival, also held annually at London’s O2 Arena growing to include stops at Dublin’s The O2 and Glasgow’s Clyde Auditorium.
As the lights dim tonight, it’s not “Lady A” or members of their usual band that play the first notes, but instead latest additions (borrowed from Justin Timberlake we’re later told) Dontae Winslow on trumpet and Regiment Horns man Sean Erick on trombone before Kelley, Scott, Haywood and their band appear on stage, diving straight into US Platinum hit single Downtown.
“This is the last stop on the tour and we couldn’t be in a more beautiful city” Scott yells at her audience before encouraging the crowd to take over vocal duties, the horns adding extra show to the massive production. Early hit single Our Kind Of Love is next, the trio breaking up to make their way across the breadth of the massive O2 Arena stage.
And while tonight might well be the last night of the group’s current tour, it’s a testament to Hillary Scott who continues to ooze energy despite begin some five months pregnant now, and with twins we’re later told, her husband Chris Tyrell hiding bashfully behind his drum kit during this reveal.
“This next song we’re going to do for you is our single right now here in the UK” Scott yells, introducing Heart Break song This City, as the giant screen backdrop lights up with a faux neon sign emblazoned with the words ‘Welcome to London’. 2011 ballad Dancin’ Away With My Heart follows before the new album’s title track gets an airing.
“I was just getting warmed up London” Kelley booms as the stomping beat of Golden single Compass rings out, mandolin helping accentuate the Country twang of the 2013 song which belnds straight into 2011 single We Owned The Night, Kelley encouraging The O2 audience to sing out the song.
“This is one of our favourite moments of the show” Scott says over the slow beat of American Honey, describing where each of the band are from in the US. “There’s nothing cooler than hearing y’all sing this back to us here in the UK” she continues, Kelley and Scott making use of the audience’s vocal abilities, pointing their mics at the arena.
Kelley’s husky voice kicks off 2012 single Wanted You More before the group acknowledge and pay tribute to those lost in the attack on Country Music Festival Route 91 Harvest just two weeks ago – “This was our first number 1 ever in the States, if we can all lift our voices, we must send this to everyone in Vegas” Kelley calls out before the opening lines of I Run To You.
“I can’t believe this is the last show, it’s kinda blowing my mind” Kelley admits. “If I end up crying tonight, I want y’all to know I’m really tough usually” the lumberjack-plaid wearing singer confesses to chuckles from the audience as Haywood switches out his guitar for an upright piano for gospel-tinged new album cut Good Time To Be Alive, Kelley taking time out to introduce the group’s band, including handing over a massive drum solo to Tyrell.
Stripping back to just the core trio, Jon Green-penned Heart Break cut Hurt is played simply with Kelley and Scott’s vocals accompanying Haywood’s piano, the stripped-back rendition heartfelt and chilling as it rings out across the vast arena. Support acts Brett Young and Kelsea Ballerini come out to join Lady A for a rendition of Shania Twain country classic You’re Still The One, the tour comradery of the five clear on this final night as Kelley encourages the crowd to light up the arena with their mobile phone torches.
“We’re just getting warmed up, we’ve got a long night for you” Kelley teases a good hour into the set, before kicking off 2011 ballad Just A Kiss, the crowd eager to continue swaying along with the slow tunes for the time being.
Hit 2014 single Bartender ups the tempo before first single Love Don’t Live Here closes out the main set, Kelley jumping down onto the arena floor and singing from various locations in the crowd, leaving the London crowd wanting more. And the American hit makers deliver, returning to the stage for biggest hit Need You Now. And rather than closing out the show with one of their own massive hits, the group treat the audience to a cover of the late Tom Petty’s Learning To Fly, the recent loss of yet another musical legend still a fresh wound in the music world.
In any other world, tonight is a masterclass in a putting on a crowd-pleasing pop show. But this is Country, and as a Country show it rarely gets bigger than this, and for good reason. There are no massive sets, confetti cannons, fireworks, surprise guests or other gimmicks to draw out the show. Tonight is simply about the music and indeed, Lady Antebellum have issues squeezing in enough of their hit-laden back catalogue to please everyone, barely touching their last two albums Golden and 747.
Live review of Lady Antebellum @ The O2 Arena by Kalpesh Patel on 10th October 2017.