I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Country Music is the new pop music. And over the past few years, people have been starting to look up and take notice not just in the genre’s heartland – the Southern United States – but both across the US and across the pond in the UK. And I firmly believe this is due to the quality of Country song-writing and it’s broader appeal, something duo Maddie & Tae addressed point blank with hit anti-Bro-Country debut single Girl In A Country Song, the sub-genre epitomising Country music stereotypes.
Tonight, the stage is far away from the Southern United States, and Madison Marlow, Taylor Dye and their four-piece band are transplanted to Camden’s Koko venue. Bursting straight into upbeat debut album cut Your Side Of Town, the audience immediately erupting.
Ballad Right Here, Right Now is next, the crowd audibly singing along with every word atop Marlow and Dye before the duo break into sassy fourth single Sierra, addressing bullying head-on, the realisation quickly setting in that the material on offer tonight are not merely catchy pop tunes with a Southern twang, but that each song has its own tale to tell and moral to convey, something at the very heart of traditional Country music.
Slow-drive Start Here opener Waiting On A Plane tells of escapist dreams, “All I’m gonna need is a one-way ticket” the pair sing wistfully before breaking into a decent chunk of The Wallflowers’ 1996 breakthrough single One Headlight, a tune largely lost on the young crowd but one that left a yearning to see Jakob Dylan’s alt. rockers play live once more. We’re Gonna Get There continues the reduced tempo, the duo’s magical harmonies layered with pedal-steel reminding us firmly that we’re at a Country show.
“This is now our third trip to the UK and it gets better every single time thanks to you guys” Marlow says, beaming out at a largely packed-out Koko. “Y’all are gonna have a really fun time, I can promise you that” Dye adds, the pair visibly glad to back in the UK as a rolling beat picks up the tempo for No Place Like You. And the crowd really do seem to be having a fun time, swaying along to the stomp-along tune, the ladies even handing over vocal duties to their London fans for a time.
“My heart is unbelievably full right now, this the best place to play. We are never going to stop making music because you are so incredible, just so you know” Marlow gushes before giving an update on the duo’s sophomore album and segueing into forthcoming album ballad Why You Lookin’ At Me? “If there are any lovebirds out there, this one’s for you” she continues before pleading with the crowd not to start making out. “You think I’m as pretty as the London city lights” they change the lyrics to, cheers ringing out from the London crowd.
Welcome To The Club is introduced by Marlow as a song written for her younger sister Camy who had recently had her first heartbreak. “That’s our job as songwriters, to get you through your funky stuff” she continued, introducing new poppy new album cut. “This is just the first scar on your heart” Camy and all those facing their first heartbreak are told.
A cover of former One Direction star Niall Horan’s Slow Hands slows the pace once more before the band depart the stage leaving Maddie & Tae to kick off a short stripped-back acoustic set featuring new song Growing, the band returning for Start Here closer Downside Of Growing Up and Walk In Her Heels. “We love coming out here because the coffee and the beer is just spectacular” Marlow says to chuckles from the crowd as she introduces the duo’s band.
Smoke has the band returning to their louder instruments, upping the volume before second single Fly does the same with the tempo, Marlow gushing mid-way: “This is probably one my favourite shows that I’ve played in my life” before blending their soulful ballad into hit 2005 Coldplay single Fix You. “We get to live our dream because of everyone here in London” she continues, and the outpouring of gratitude, while over the top, seems genuine.
The main set is rounded out with an airing of biggest hit Girl In A Country Song, Maddie & Tae getting their audience to clap along to its stomping beat, kicked off in fine form by Kyle Wilkerson, the sassy, anti-Bro-Country song easily getting the biggest cheer of the night, the duo’s insistence on traditional instrumentation such as pedal steel and mandolin another middle finger aimed at the disrespectful few of the sub-genre.
The duo and their band return to the stage for a two-song encore, kicking off with forthcoming album cut Somebody Will and round out the evening with Start Here single Shut Up And Fish, the song telling the funny tale of a city boy on a fishing trip with one of our ladies who has “more than just bass on his mind” leaving the Koko audience with smiles on their faces as they depart the North London venue.
It’s been said Maddie & Tae easily slot into the huge void left by Taylor Swift’s genre-departure, but I feel they are so much more than that simple pigeon-hole. The less-rocky, more retro-1990s Country feel of their music adds an authenticity to their charm proving that these young ladies will not be following the popular pack but will instead be carving out their own path in a direction of their choosing.
Live review and photos of Maddie & Tae @ Koko by Kalpesh Patel on 24th August 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate