Day 2 of the Country to Country festival was highly anticipated due to the big names on the bill. Kip Moore, Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum were providing the entertainment. Due to the overlapping of the pop up acts I unfortunately missed Kip Moore’s set. However my fellow colleague Nick was there to catch the action.
Kip Moore, one of the more underrated artists on this year’s C2C bill, must not have done many shows starting at 16.15, but if he didn’t feel comfortable, he definitely didn’t show it. From the moment he started his first song ‘Wild Ones’, he had me absolutely enraptured, and it was just a massive shame that the arena was only half full, because everyone present for his set were absolutely raving about it afterwards. Although in the press-conference he talked about the ‘blank faces’ of UK fans just absorbing the music and not showing their enjoyment, he seemed very taken back by the warm reception he received by the crowd. In fact, although he managed to miss his official meet-and-greet after the show, he told the audience that he would stay in the main concourse all night if he must, in order to meet all of the fans who affected him so. With Springsteen-like grit in his voice, I honestly wasn’t expecting his vocals to be so crisp and on-point, rather expecting to enjoy the atmosphere created. However, in songs like ‘Hey Pretty Girl’ and ‘Reckless (Still Growing Up)’, I had goosebumps from the sheer power in his vocals, and when he performed a cover of Oasis’ ‘Dont Look Back In anger’, I think it may have been one of the best pieces of live music I’ve seen, with the fairly small crowd that actually bothered to see his set singing loudly enough for the whole arena. Kip your eye out for this guy!
As a fan of Brantley Gilbert’s music, I’d been looking forward to his set. More established since his first visit 2 years ago, he was playing in front of a much bigger audience. Brantley is someone described as being ‘Too rock for country, too country for rock” musically that could not be more accurate. If you were type redneck into Google it would probably show a picture of his face first. Brantley has never attempted to hide his forthright Republican views, but less about that onto the music.
Brantley certainly got the party started, launching into some of his rockier hits. His band very heavy on the electric guitar and the drums, and it probably felt like a rock concert more than anything, all that was lacking was a mosh pit. Vocally Brantley has always sounded solid, although the impression I got was that the sound team didn’t quite know how to project his voice, maybe this was because of my location at the back of the o2 arena, his vocals didn’t travel that well, not through his fault mind. Although he rocked the stadium with tracks such as the controversial ‘Take it Outside’ and ‘Read Me My rights’, note to any budding burglars, robbing Brantley Gilbert will probably be the last thing you do. However behind his outlaw exterior, he’s an incredibly talented songwriter, it’s not unreasonable to say he’s one of the best around. ‘I’m Gone’ A song in which he really opens up his heart over his much publicised break up with Jana Kramer, and the emotion emanating from the performance was for me the stand-out moment in his performance and was a nice change of time. With a mix of the some of the more heartfelt songs, he also played perhaps the more commercial stadium friendly hits from his new record, ‘Bottoms up’,and’One hell of an Amen’ which was an interesting country/rock take on dealing with the death and funeral of a loved one. Although some may really push him in the Bro-country category, with his brash alpha male exterior, his talent as a performer and a songwriter showed on Sunday, again the only disappointment was with the way his voice was projected, granted his vocal range is relatively limited but still, its unfortunately not the first time I have mentioned sound issues this weekend.
Jason Aldean at least state-side was probably the biggest star on the bill for Sunday, but due to Lady Antebellums popularity here in the UK he was slotted in before them. So my thoughts, well I admittedly found it difficult to come to a conclusion. Musically I have never found Jason Aldean particularly appealing, for many he is the epitome of the ‘Bro-Country’ Image. Which for country traditionalists would have been a complete turn off. For what its worth, I have nothing against songs about beer, trucks and women. However I do like a bit of variety. However I tried to keep an open mind as I am reviewing a performance as opposed to the music.
Well, for me it certainly was becoming a stretch to call that country music, with big bright pyrotechnics, and overly loud sound arrangement, I mean 3 electric guitarists was far too excessive for the size of the arena in which he was performing. There was no toning down of the tempo the whole way through his set. I don’t really need to comment on individual songs as they all seemed to sound the same, Aldean seems to almost gobble up the microphone, vocally he was solid, although his sound certainly travelled better, the sound guy seemed to have a grip by then. Overall, he is there to provide entertainment, and with the beers in full flow by then, he certainly obliged, so I can only credit him for that, his band notched the decibel level up quite a notch and its safe to say everyone was pumped. However musically I am not convinced by Aldean, and this live performance did little to change my mind, but as a spectacle he put on a show, and that is the aim of the game.
So it was all down to the weekends big head-liners Lady Antebellum. Unlike the other acts on this years line-up, they have built an established fan-base over the past few years. I had already seem them perform after the c2c announcement last year at The Brooklyn Bowl, and back then I thought their set was fantastic. Of course performing in an arena as large as the o2, and certainly the biggest British audience they’ve played in front of, I was eager to see how their performance transferred to the big stage. So how was it?
IT WAS FUCKING AWESOME!
I was half tempted just to finish the review there! Seriously though it was brilliant. It’s hard to believe time has flown by to the point that Lady Antebellum have released five albums, however that enabled to fill the hour and a half time slot quite comfortably. In Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott they have two fantastic vocalists and performers with a contrasting but infectious personality and they share some excellent chemistry, for Hillarys, graceful, humble demeanour, you have’s Kelley’s almost boundless energy and exuberance; add to the mix Dave Heywood, one of the finest songwriters/musicians that Nashville has to offer and you’re left with one hell of the show. Throughout the set they performed many of their major hits over the years, ranging from their very first single ‘Love don’t live here’ to ‘ ‘Long Stretch Of Love’. Their variety in the set really impressed me, it really had something for everyone. For the party people you had ‘Love Don’t Live here’ ‘Bartender’ and the sassy ‘Downtown’ which is probably where you see Hillary at her most animated, as per the video for the song. In the middle of their set they sang an acoustic set containing one of my favourite Lady A songs ‘I Run To You’ after that Charles introduced the rest of band and told the story of how they got together as a group. The way they, (Charles especially) interacted was professional but with a personal touch. ‘American Honey’ another crowd favourite was one of the early highlights of the show.
Naturally those watching Lady Antebellum will have their own personal favourite highlights, however there can be no disputing that they struck gold with the audience, by the end of the show, pretty much everyone was up on their feel singing along at the top of their voices. Unlike say the Brantley Gilbert set where he was having to actively encourage the audience clap along, the audience for Lady A sang along to the majority of the songs, and the cheering/clapping was entirely of their own accord.
Their closing encore, was perhaps one of the most special moments I have been a part of at a concert. When Lady Antebellum went of stage the crowd erupted and after a few moments, suddenly the foot clapping started and the crowd just started singing, pretty much all 17,000 of them. Lady Antebellum themselves seemed genuinely overwhelmed, it was one of those ‘you had to be their moments’. Closing of course with their biggest hit to date and crowd favourite ‘Need You Know’, it closed what was easily the most exhilarating and varied performance of the weekend, it could not have been a more fitting ending.