Brett Eldredge took to the stage in the UK for the first time on Sunday night, and I’m sure he nor his band, crew or team knew what to expect. It can be difficult to launch yourself as a country artist outside of the United States, particularly if you’re still relatively new to your home audience as well, and some tours have been known to fall flat on their face due to poor promotion or lack of a market. However, that was not the case for Brett Eldredge. It’s clear his pop/R&B leanings and good looks have found an audience here, evident in part from the women (and men) spending hours queuing up outside the venue, long before doors opened. Indeed, although the gig had not quite sold out, the floor was packed and I found the fans to be particularly hostile, in the way you might expect from fans of a teenage heart-throb. Support act the Pauper Kings were pretty well received although I was not overly impressed myself, but it was when Brett took the stage about 9pm that those fans really raised the roof.
Brett obviously knows his audience, because he came on stage immediately referencing the fact that it was Valentine’s Day, handing out single roses to various members of the crowd (mostly on the front row). He was full of energy and in good spirits, beginning with ‘Fire’ – the opening track from his latest record ‘Illinois’ – and continuing the party with ‘On and On’ and ‘Beat of The Music’ – both from his debut album ‘Bring You Back’. The setlist mostly consisted of tracks from ‘Illinois’, including both singles ‘Lose My Mind’ and ‘Drunk On Your Love’, while offerings from ‘Bring You Back’ consisted of the singles, plus the aforementioned and ‘Tell Me Where to Park’. A particular highlight was during his rendition of ‘Mean To Me’, when he brought a couple up on stage to facilitate a marriage proposal. The young couple (they couldn’t have been more than their early-mid twenties) were adorable and danced in each other’s arms during the performance, and it definitely was a lovely inclusion, especially for a Valentine’s Day show.
That theme continued throughout the night, as more roses were doled out and songs like ‘One Mississippi’ got a spotlight. At various points Brett gave brief explanations as to the inspiration behind the songs, but they were usually only a couple of sentences long and he mostly stuck to just playing music rather than talking extensively to the crowd. Even when the band left the stage to allow him to play acoustically, the crowd retained their high enthusiasm and energy, and it was mostly just one big party. That was heightened further every time Brett played a well-known cover, and the night’s selection included Ray Charles’ ‘I Got A Woman’, a portion of Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’, Ginuwine’s mid-90’s hit ‘Pony’, and Frank Sinatra’s ‘The Way You Look Tonight’.
Following a raucous and impatient response to him leaving the stage, Brett returned to play a two-song encore that began with a Jack Daniels-infused ‘Shadow’ and ended with his breakout hit ‘Don’t Ya’. What was most surprising, however, was that he didn’t leave the stage following the end of the song. His band kept an instrumental going for several minutes while Brett jumped down into the crowd and began signing t-shirts, tickets and other items, continuously stopping for selfies. The crowd surged forward, with predominantly young women desperate to get close to him and grab some of his attention, and he stayed for a little while before finally leaving for good (although later he exited the stage door to continue to meet queueing fans and sign autographs). It was one of the craziest gigs I’ve been to in some time, and I was totally bowled over by the reaction. Clearly Brett has a significant future in the UK market, and that’s down at least in part to how gracious and appreciative he is of his fans, in addition to being an energetic and charismatic performer.
There were several songs he didn’t play that I would have liked to hear, and the night felt rather short even though he played for almost 90 minutes, but judging by that reaction I’m sure it won’t be long before he returns. His vocals are flawless live and he’s definitely worth seeing – even if some of the crazy fans are best avoided.