NEW YORK -- What a difference a year makes. When Lady Antebellum blew through New York City in early 2009, even though they'd already begun making a major impact, they were still basically one-album wonders.
Photo Credit: John W. Ferguson/Getty Images
Sure, they'd earned CMA and ACM awards, but those were best-newbie honors, and while their '09 itinerary included opening slots for the likes of Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney, the biggest NYC venue Antebellum filled under their own steam was Joe's Pub, a 160-capacity downtown supper club.
Cut to Tuesday night (Sept. 28). The trio's got a Grammy and a busload of other awards to their name and a sophomore release, Need You Now, that did twice its predecessor's business, scaled the top of the country and pop charts and spawned three No. 1 singles.
This New York City visit was a high-profile stop on the band's first full headlining tour, and thanks to an exponentially expanding audience, they sold out the city's legendary Beacon Theatre. A block from the venue, frenetic ticket scalpers were mangling the pronunciation of "antebellum" in fervid pitches to potential customers. Inside, a group of teenage girls sporting matching, homemade-looking "I (Heart) Lady Antebellum" T-shirts could be seen among scores of other admirers in more official LA-emblazoned apparel, and well before a note had been sung, there was already a palpable feeling of eventfulness to the evening.
After a short, workmanlike opening set by David Nail, who good-naturedly confessed to the crowd that he's "not too proud to ride some coattails" in order to play a prestigious venue like the Beacon, the curtain rose to reveal Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood center stage, standing close together while delivering the opening lines of "I Run to You" in three-part harmony sans band. Even before the rhythm section kicked in, a gaggle of excited girls in the orchestra section were already bopping breathlessly up and down with an intensity that only increased as the trio plowed through the high-energy Need You Now tunes, "Stars Tonight" and "Love This Pain." With Scott, clad in black tights and sequined top, and the rangy Kelley, sporting a plain black T-shirt and tight jeans, playfully goading each other on, they created a charged onstage dynamic. The set continued to prove heavily front-loaded with rockers, as "Lookin' for a Good Time" and "Long Gone" found the trio belting out the songs atop raunchy guitar riffs.
The scene soon changed -- literally -- as the stage backdrop turned into a twinkling constellation of stars for the gently romantic, piano-led "When You Got a Good Thing," which peaked with a tall, pigtailed lead guitarist stepping up to the spotlight and kicking things into power-ballad territory with a soaring solo. After the trio showed off some more of their patented, super-tight harmonies on "Love's Lookin' Good on You," Kelley paused to share his enthusiasm with the audience about the group's "first-ever headlining tour, hopefully the first of many."
The band quickly swapped their electric axes for accordion, Dobro, mandolin and acoustic bass to gather close together, bluegrass-style, for the front-porch feel of "Something 'Bout a Woman" before the trio began taking turns at solo spots featuring cover tunes. Scott crooned a piano-and-vocal version of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," the 24-year-old observing that she understood the song a lot better these days. "Now that I'm a little older and had my heart broken a few times," she said.
Haywood, natty in button-down shirt and tie, delivered a solo-acoustic take on Luke Bryan's hit "Do I," which he revealed he'd written with Kelley and Bryan on the latter's front porch after a healthy intake of beer. Introducing his own solo feature, Kelley reminisced about playing his fair share of Tom Petty tunes in youthful cover bands with his brother Josh -- who was in the house -- before launching into Petty's "Learning to Fly."
Taking triumvirate form once more, Lady Antebellum pulled out the heavy artillery, unleashing an onslaught of hits, including "Our Kind of Love," "American Honey" and the single that started it all, "Love Don't Live Here," whose pealing heartland-rock riffs probably wouldn't have sounded at all out of place in the Petty discography so beloved by the young Kelley brothers.
After Kelley surveyed the crowd -- and wondered aloud, "How'd they get so many country fans in New York City?" -- the piano intro to the group's driving, quadruple-platinum single, "Need You Now," led the audience to erupt with an excitement that rose again after Lady Antebellum left the stage and returned for an encore with the anthemic "Hello World."
With the rather U2-like throbbing groove and chiming guitars of Lady Antebellum's latest single still reverberating in the air, New York City was left with little doubt that last year's rising rookies are Nashville's 2010 MVPs.
View photos from the concert.