Photo by Brian Chilson.
Tim McGraw / Lady AntebellumApril 9, Verizon Arena
Lady Antebellum probably infuriates country purists, if there are any of those left. On record, the trio of Nashville young bloods only occasionally pretends to have something to do with country music and live they don't even pretend. At Verizon Arena on Friday the band brought no fiddle or pedal steel to dirty up their clean, simple, ultra-melodic pop.
As the second of two opening acts for Tim McGraw (the first, The Lost Trailers, sort of sound like the Goo Goo Dolls and will be lucky if they every catch on another major tour), Lady Antebellum is in any interesting place — two albums into a career that find them one of the hottest acts in all of music. Their set, which was about an hour and ought to be the last they'll have before they are headlining, was filled with their hits and the ones they hope to be hits and a cover of John Mellencamp's "Rockin in the USA." About an hour is all Lady Antebellum needs right now, giving them just enough time to showcase why they have rocketed to the top in such a dramatic fashion.
The answer in part is the twining of James Kelley and Hilary Scott's voices, with Kelley's husky but subtle baritone really making an impression live. The other reason is that the band's hits — "Need You Now" and the one-night stand anthem "Looking for a Good Time" — are shameless, obvious, middle-of-the-road and absolutely great. At Verizon, Kelley and Scott seemed to have a hard time catching up to the fast part of "Looking for a Good Time," but "Need You Now" just worked, and the 10,000 plus crowd responded in kind. Interestingly, Kelley and Scott, who aren't romantically linked, are growing into their roles as stars and, except on occasion, they often performed without recognizing each other and sort of just drifted around the stage. It didn't help that they performed in front of the curtain that would eventually come down for the McGraw set. The projections on the curtain were particularly uninspired, and the one they put up during "Perfect Day" looked like active shower fungus.
The uninspired theatrics were sharp contrast to McGraw, 42, who has been at this long enough ("22 years. Can you believe it?" he said at one point on stage) to know that the best thing to do is be backed by a huge band and then mostly stand still and absorb the love. He walked out wearing blue jeans, a short sleeve black shirt with a deep V-neck and a black cowboy hat. It was sex panther McGraw, which stands in stark contrast to the hausfrau, fast food king he played in "The Blind Side."
McGraw promised to the 10,000 plus Verizon crowd that he would play "music and no BS." He talked some more (including trying to pacify the crowd with his opinion that the "Hogs are gonna be pretty good this year, you got a good quarterback") did just that, performing a whole bunch of songs that generated massive sing-a-longs including the inescapable and more than a little cheesy "Live Like You Were Dying." "She's My Kind of Rain" stood out, as McGraw, who's never been known for a powerhouse voice, found a nice tone for the ballad. Still, McGraw's two hour show didn't get around to his first hit, "Indian Outlaw" or his sweet take on Ryan Adams' "Stars Go Blue." In all, it was a serviceable show by a performer who is close, if not already there, to veteran status. He'll be back, but you have to wonder how long he can keep playing the sex panther card.