Country 2 Country
Day 1 – Saturday
By David England
Photo’s Hels Bels Photography
She came, she sang and she conquered the O2. Just a girl, a guitar, a big heart and one great big personality. I’d listened to 12 Stories a few times, loved the clever lyrics and acoustic feel but was a little bit worried that she wouldn’t be able to transplant the CD into a large venue. I was wrong. So wrong. From the moment the band started the intro to “Stripes” you knew this was going to be special. A song about a woman who wants to kill her husband after catching him cheating is pure country. Why doesn’t see kill him? Orange isn’t her colour and she hates stripes! When it finished, she had the audience eating out of her hand. What’ll Keep Me Out Of heaven, oozes country. It has an old school vibe and showcases her voice.
In between the tracks she joked that she wanted to take us all back to the US with her and I’m pretty sure that all of us would have gone! She seemed amazed at the love of Country music here in the UK, which was echoed by everyone who hadn’t performed over here.
Even if you weren’t aware of Brandy Clark going into Country 2 Country you were probably aware of her songs. From Kacey Musgrave, Clark wrote Follow Your Arrow to The Band Perry’s Better Dig Two through to Miranda Lambert’s Mama’s Broken Heart and it was the last two that we were treated to her version. Better Dig Two a big slab of Southern Gothic country became richer and much, much darker when sung by Clark. It was a faultless performance and she clearly shows how that song should be sung. It’s the same for Mamas Broken Heart, I’m a big Lambert fan but Clark nailed it. Both records benefit from less production.
We were also treated to the story behind Get High. Ostensibly a song she wrote about a girl she went to school with, she discovered while touring that the song resonated with an awful lot of people and could have been written about them. The song almost has a jaunty feel to it, and judging by the people around me dancing they thought the same.
The penultimate song, Take A Little Pill, was a beautifully acerbic attack on legal addiction. She regards the song as the centrepiece of her album and you can hear her sadness and her resignation that our dependency on pills to get through anything is an acceptable norm.
Finishing on Hung Over she thanked us for coming and left the stage to a standing ovation whilst the band played out the final bars of the song. If you missed this performance, you missed something really special. It truly was an amazing start to an evening and hopefully it won’t be too long and we’ll see her back again promoting the new album. I’ll be first in the queue.
Lee Ann Womack was up next and with her recent album release The Way I’m Living I was expecting something special. She describes the album as a grown up record and coming from a traditional country singer songwriter with a traditional sound I was looking forward to this. Starting with “All His Saints” a bluesy country sound which got the crowd going before going into “Never Again, Again” you knew this was going to be good.
“Don’t Listen To The Wind” with its haunting fiddle and equally haunting vocals was another personal favourite. Womack can carry emotion in her voice with the best of them.
Before singing “I May Hate Myself In The Morning” she told us that it was one of her favourite songs that she ever recorded as it’s “so country”. With Womack wanting to turn the O2 into a big Texas honky-tonk she then upped her game with “The Way I’m Living”.
Finishing her set with “I Hope You Dance”, an absolutely gorgeous life affirming record and the brilliant “Ashes By Now” which had the crowd on their feet, you knew at the end that you had seen something special. Luke Bryan described her as one of the finest country singers around and after that performance I’d probably agree.
Florida Georgia Line
Like it or not Florida Georgia Line are one of the largest Country acts around at the moment. With a blend of Country, Rock and Hip-Hop they are smashing records every year. Launching straight into “Every Night” they were here to party and were prepared to take all of us along with them. This is the third time I have seen them live and their energy and enjoyment of performing comes through every time. Although I couldn’t see the top tiers everyone else was up from the start, dancing and singing along.
With “Sippin’ On Fire and Dirt”, their first single off the new album, the boys had a chance to slow the set down, allowing us to catch our breath and give us one of the standout tracks of the night. No surprise when you hear them say it’s one of their favourite tracks. The slow tempo didn’t last too long, with FGL launching into “Like You Ain’t Even Gone” following that with Black Stone Cherry’s “Stay” which is one of my personal favourites.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the night was “This Is How We Roll”, we waited and we waited for Luke to come out but alas he stayed backstage. It’s a shame as I do love the way Luke Bryan says “cuss”!
They finished on the crowd pleasing monster smash “Cruise”. The fans in front of the stage were treated to BK and Tyler ripping off their shirts and flinging them into the crowd.
With that, the current CMA Entertainer of the year bounded onto the stage with “That’s My Kind Of Night” and the place erupted. Everyone knew every word and was fully prepared to sing along. Running through “All My Friends Say” and going straight into “Rain Is A Good Thing” he covered every inch of stage possible to give us the full Luke Bryan show. Ploughing through “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and “Roller Coaster” we barely had time to breath but no one cared.
After thanking us for selling the place out on a Saturday and telling us he’s never been as drunk as he has been over the last week (and will be carrying on after the show) the pace finally slowed. With several slow numbers in a row including the Commodores classic “Easy”, the superb “Drink A Beer” and his first number one “Do I” we breathed!
Going into the final song of the show, we got the glorious “I Don’t Want This Night To End” blended with Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” before he left the stage. We waited, we knew what we hadn’t heard, we knew he was coming back out. The kick of the guitar introduced “I See You”. It left one song that we wanted to hear. “Where’s my Country girls?” shouted Luke and we knew what was coming, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”. It was a brilliant end, to a brilliant night.