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Sunday 25 November 2018

A View Of From The Back Of The Room: Thomas Rhett (Review By Nick)

Thomas Rhett, Devin Dawson, Danielle Bradbery, Hammersmith Apollo.

Danielle Bradbery

Following winning The Voice America back in 2013, the first country act to do so, Bradbery has slowly risen to be a staple in the country scene. Hailing from Texas her accent is hard to miss, combined with her shy nature immediately wins over the crowd as she walks onto the stage for a six song stripped down acoustic set to open the night. Having listened to Bradbery's recent album I Don't Believe We've Met in preparation for the gig I was impressed by her voice first and foremost: strong, powerful and clear... I was looking forward to seeing her live, and damn she did not disappoint! As described above her voice was utterly flawless but with a hidden raspiness live that just completed the package for me. Starting with two songs from her latest offering Can't Stay Mad and What Are We Doing were welcomed by the crowd as most stood mesmerised by her voice that was coming with such ease from such a small figure of lady.

Both slower ballad like songs that had a feeling of honesty about them, very wholesome, and when fan favourite, more upbeat Heart Of Dixie was added to the mix it allowed the crowd to enjoy Bradbery's voice and feel a little looser in themselves as many started to dance. Finishing with a threesome of Hello Summer, Sway and Worth It the now half full Apollo was sent into hysterics when the man of the moment Thomas Rhett briefly joined Bradbery on stage for his cameo in Hello Summer. I'm not ashamed to admit the Bradbery's voice stole my heart that night, there are very few female vocalists I have come across that have such honest, clean and powerful vocals delivered with minimal effort, the closest I can think of would be the great Amanda Somerville... and she's really not far off that! The only quibble would be the stripped back nature of her set, but with tine constraints and the stage being filled with Rhett's paraphernalia it was understandable. Definitely one act I'd see again with zero hesitation 9/10.

Devin Dawson

Coming somewhat as a surprise to most Dawson managed to steal the main support spot above the more known and experienced Bradbury, but it wasn't long before the reasoning was made clear as the Georgia man strutted on stage guitar in hand with band in tow and broke out into the hard hitting country rock song War Paint followed by the equally rocky and funk filled Dip, both from his new and debut album Dark Horse both of which got the now pretty much full Apollo moving their feet. Unfortunately both opening songs were plagued by the fact that it was nearly impossible to hear his vocals above the band, despite Dawson gesturing to the techs on multiple occasions. Only when things slowed down were his vocals revealed and this was for my personal favourite song Symptoms

A song that every person on the planet can relate to, its so bluesy and sexy it almost oozes from Dawson's mouth complimented by his brilliant band especially lead guitarist who was able to make his guitar weep some beautiful slow notes. I was really impressed here, none on stage let themselves down. The main issue I had with Dawson's new album is the way it seemed to jump around from Rock, to Blues, to Country and then to beautiful ballads … the album and he seemed to lack identity when listening, and in all honesty, its what I felt watching him live too. Individually the songs are great, he certainly struggled a little more with the pacier more rocky songs while for the slower songs such as Symptoms, Dark Horse and fan favourite All On Me his voice was brilliant and he nailed every note and the feeling/message behind each song. I could not fault the effort and passion that Dawson had and delivered across the 45 minute set where he offered up the majority of his debut album. 

However I couldn't help that feel there was a little naivety in his performance and set pacing and as I mentioned before in his album... a lack of identity. For me Dawson has all the potential in the world and should channel that into what he appears to do best; proper honest country. But when you have a young man wearing what appeared to be a Candlemass t-shirt delivering such an eclectic mix of genres, I do wonder if that will ever change. Nonetheless, Dawson is certainly someone to keep an eye on and clearly is blessed with talent. I would be keen to see him again in a few years to see the direction he has taken. The most important thing is, the crowd seemed more than satisfied as he left the stage to great applause. 7/10

Thomas Rhett

After a thirty plus minute wait following the set from Devin Dawson, finally Thomas Rhett donned the stage with 100% energy running around the stage from start to finish for his only European date on his Life Changes Tour. Initially supporting a yellow leather jacket which I assumed was a nod to the great Freddie Mercury while in his homeland, Rhett slammed into action with a triple whammy of Leave Right Now, T-Shirt and Renegades... all of which sent the Apollo into a dancing and jumping frenzy each ending in high pitched screams which I hadn't experienced at a gig in a long time and completely caught me of guard initially. Rhett is one of those guys which all other guys should really detest, he's got everything; the looks, a majestic beard, the voice, the girl, the family, the money and can turn his hand to most instruments as he demonstrated throughout his set ... yet, you can't help but respect and like him, as he showed tonight and as he always has showed, he's just a normal, kind guy from Georgia who is unbelievably humble and thankful for where he is and how quickly he has set the country music scene alight over the past 5 years. 

Playing bigger and bigger sold out venues every time her plays London the next stop for Rhett is probably Wembley Arena, which is almost a shame as in this venue on this night he was simply sublime, a showman of the highest calibre. As the show moved on things slowed down a little with Country Gold before moving onto more poppy songs from his new album Craving You and Life Changes, prior to which he offered up the story behind the song relating to his recent adoption of a child due to perceived infertility then four months later being gifted a child of their own through natural conception. Slightly teary the crowd serenaded Rhett with the final verse and chorus as he composed himself. Next a few slower songs and more honest country songs from Rhett's back catalogue; Remember You Young, Beer With Jesus and the anthem Marry Me, during all of which Rhett was joined by the crowd on top of their voices. Another double dose of rocky songs was next with It Goes Like This and my particular favourite Unforgettable, where Rhett again exhibited no lack of energy or drive in his performance as he flew around the stage interacting with band and crowd alike.

Leaving the stage to rapturous applause screams and shouts soon the band and the star of the show returned to deliver a encore of the beautiful ballad that is Die A Happy Man during which Rhett spotted a couple getting engaged in the crowd, as a result he proceeded to pull them up on stage and give them a personal rendition of the final verse and chorus as they slow danced on stage. “This is was music is about” he proclaimed.... and he's not wrong you know! Finally the hour and forty five minute set came to a close all too soon with another anthem Crash And Burn which ended with aplomb, with no messing around, Leaving the crowd pleading for more but over the moon with what they had just witnessed. Musically Rhett's band were on cracking form, extremely tight despite the varied forms of country offered and transitioning into the more poppy songs from his newer album, none of this seemed to be an issue for the band. The great pacing and set order was also a great help. 

In all honesty I went into this gig knowing that I would enjoy it, despite not being a massive fan of Rhett's new more poppy album, he has so much to offer in his back catalogue, while his voice and character alone are enough to make you smile. But I left the Apollo with a beaming smile across my face and skip in my set still humming his tunes, as I felt I was part of something special. People of all ages gathered to celebrate country music and it was delivered by a complete humble professional with two solid supports. Quite frankly I cant wait to see him again... 10/10

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