Little Big Town made their UK debut back in 2013 as part of the line-up at the then fledgling Country 2 Country festival. To say that the four-piece group were well-received was a huge understatement, fans were hopeful of a return to these shores soon and the group themselves seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the response they received. The wheels turn slowly in the music industry and it took virtually two years for Jimi, Karen, Kimberly & Phillip to manage to cross the Atlantic again. This week saw the UK leg of Little Big Town’s ‘Pain Killer’ tour featuring shows in London, Manchester & Glasgow.
The London show took place in the perfectly pitched setting of Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a venue intimate enough to make the audience really feel part of the show whilst still boasting a crowd of 2,000 or so. Support act for the US headliners were the UK’s own The Shires, Crissie Rhodes & Ben Earle. Momentum continues to build for this fantastic homegrown duo who are set to release their debut album ‘Brave’ on 2nd March. Performing a stripped-down acoustic set The Shires allowed the quality of their material and their glorious harmonies do all of the hard work. The tracks featured from their forthcoming album are already firm favourites amongst UK Country fans, ‘Nashville Grey Skies’, ‘Tonight’ and current single ‘Friday Night’ all went down a storm, as did opening number ‘Brave’, an absolutely beautiful track.
Covers of ‘Islands In The Stream’ and a captivatingly slowed down ‘Young Hearts’ were mixed into the set, both of which breathed new life into the songs. This was my second time seeing The Shires perform live within 3 months, having caught them on their Homegrown Tour with Ward Thomas, and Tuesday’s appearance only served to enhance their reputation further. The first UK Country act to be signed to a major Nashville label, they also have the chance to become the first UK Country act to debut in the Top 10 of the all-genre album chart over here. Pre-orders of ‘Brave‘ surged again following this run supporting Little Big Town, and deservedly so.
As 9pm approached you could feel the excitement in the venue building, the lights went down and, after a fantastic tease of a guitar intro, Little Big Town took the stage to perform a thunderous version of ‘Turn The Lights On’ from their current ‘Pain Killer’ album. Without pausing for so much as a breath the group launched in to gold-selling party anthem ‘Day Drinking’ followed by ‘Quit Breaking Up With Me’, one of the highlights from the new album and a track that allows Karen & Kimberly to really cut loose. As you would expect, content of the set was strongly influenced by the band’s current offering on the album charts, I think I counted eleven of the thirteen tracks from ‘Pain Killer’ making an appearance during the night. With an album as impressive as Little Big Town delivered last year you cannot blame them for wanting to give fans the chance to hear its’ tracks live. Stand-outs of these songs were the glorious reggae-flavoured title track & enchanting current single ‘Girl Crush’, both of which feature the strong harmonies we have come to expect from the group but also showcase what an incredible vocalist Karen Fairchild is. A special mention also for ballad ‘Live Forever’, with its timeless sound and tender vocals from all four members, especially that appealing grit to Phillip’s delivery.
With a set polished to perfection by a group with more years experience of performing live than they may care to admit, the foursome worked tirelessly to cram as many of their songs into a packed set. Chat was kept to a minimum, although it was clear that the group were incredibly thankful for the rapturous reception they were receiving, the section mid-set where they discussed their attempts at British accents and Karen’s gentle ribbing of Kimberly’s southern drawl (particularly when pronouncing white wine/diet sprite) were hugely charming. The release of their platinum-selling ‘Tornado’ album saw Little Big Town hit another level of success in the US, so it was pleasing to hear them delve into gems it had to offer. The powerful bluesy title track had Shepherd’s Bush Empire rocking with its pounding drumline, the gently reflective ‘Sober’ gave Kimberly a chance to shine, whilst closing track ‘Pontoon’ needed only it’s signature dobro licks to get the London crowd cheering.
For long-term fans the back-catalogue was plundered a little further for a stirring version of 2007’s ‘I’m With The Band’, and a stage-stomping workout to 2010’s ‘Little White Church’. Stepping away from their own material the group performed a sizzling cover of Fleetwood Mac hit ‘The Chain’, sounding almost as if it was written for Little Big Town’s powerhouse harmonies, kudos to Jimi for absolutely killing it with his vocals. An encore was well-deserved and fittingly the group re-took the stage to end the night with their first Top 10 hit in the US, ‘Boondocks’, a little bit of home for them on UK soil.
Little Big Town are the current Vocal Group of the Year as voted by the CMA & ACM, and there is naturally a number of good reasons why, all of which were on display on their UK tour. The group have a strong hand in writing the vast majority of the songs they record and that shines through when they perform the tracks. Their ‘Pain Killer’ album was one of the most satisfying of 2014, playfully blurring the lines between Country music and closely linked genres, giving the group a wealth of superb material to perform live. Vocally they are outstanding, their voices combine deliciously on harmonies honed to perfection. There is absolutely no weak link on the solo vocals, all four members possessing their own unique voice in Little Big Town’s soundscape.
The London show on Tuesday was a night to remember and response to the Manchester & Glasgow shows was equally emphatic. The UK leg of Little Big Town’s ‘Pain Killer’ tour was a resounding success, with fans new & old completely won over by one of the finest Country groups currently recording, at the absolute top of their game.
(All photos copyright of Anthony D’Angio: www.frography.com)