09 October 2017 (gig)
A decade has past since Lady Antebellum were first noticed by the international music community, when they featured on Jim Brickman's Never Alone. A year later they released their eponymous debut album, marking the start of what would prove to be a multi-million selling record career. While still best known in the UK for their #15 charting 2009 single Need You Now, the group have earned themselves a loyal following within the UK. Having proved a huge hit when they headlined Country2Country in 2015, the group are now a stadium touring trio who were invited onto BBC Breakfast to discuss their seventh studio Heart Break just ahead of their UK tour. While their Birmingham audience only filled around 2/3 of the Barclaycard Arena, there was an excited audience counting down to their set as they watched the "Barbie and Ken" (Lady A's own words) of country's sets.
Brett Young (or Ken, whichever you prefer) had the difficult job of delivering a stripped back four song set to warm up the audience for the two much more widely known acts that were to follow him. While he boasts a soulful and rich vocal, the strength of the material delivered did not manage to translate warmly on to the audience who seemed unmoved throughout his set. While there were an excited few in the stalls, on the whole the former sportsman didn't manage to move with his trio of original songs. While current single In Case You Didn't Know clearly rang bells for a portion of the audience, it was his magical rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah that really showed the true depth of beauty to his vocal.
Barbie, we mean Kelsea Ballerini, bounced on stage full of energy. A stark contrast to Brett, Kelsea oozed star quality from the moment she bounced on stage and blew the audience away with her killer vocal. Although she may have had the easier task, given the popularity of her debut album The First Time, it was clear from the excited applause and cheers that Kelsea was winning over those that hadn't heard of her, while sealing her place in the hearts of those already declaring themselves fans. With as many Kelsea T-Shirts filling the auditorium as Lady Antebellum ones, she was justly rewarded with a set of around 45 minutes to share her hits and some insights into what is destined to be a sensational sophomore album. With Dibs, Stilettos and Yeah Boy all obvious fan favourites, a journey through Justin Bieber's Sorry and OneRepublic's Apologise showcased her playful side and I Hate Love Songs and Legends ensured pre-orders for November's apologetically skyrocketed in the interval.
A headliner should have an easy job following their support act, but the frenzied excitement for Kelsea's set meant Lady Antebellum had set themselves a tough task. But the slick professionals knew how to make an entrance, with their band whipping up euphoria in the Arena ahead of them slinking on stage. With a focus on their latest studio release, Heart Break, Lady Antebellum were clearly enjoying themselves as delivered flawless harmonies and insightful explanations. Yet some things are just a little too perfect, meaning that the emotional edge that has defined their sound was often missing in the bigger numbers, while a clear lack of knowledge of their album filling material meant that the audience occasionally lost focus during the unknown numbers.
Stripping away the stage show for a raw, real delivery of Hurt revealed the truth of their appeal. This is a band who can fill arenas, and they definitely should, but having stolen hearts with their emotional storytelling, it is actually when they offer up an honest insight that they really connect. With American Honey and of course, Need You Now, proving audience favourites, Lady Antebellum certainly left their audience satisfied, but craving a return to the band they once were, not the one they have grown into.