Traffic, usually the bane of inhabitants in more urban areas, was almost the story of the night Thursday in Amherst.
With delays lengthening the trip from I-91 to the Mullins Center almost to a full hour, much could be written about the often stop-and-go conditions on Route 9 and beyond. However once safely inside the venue, most worries were checked at the door as Grammy winning country stars Lady Antebellum took the stage before an enthusiastic audience for an hour-and-a-half long set full of hits both old and new.
Or, should I say the group rose to the occasion?
Making their entrance through a riser hidden beneath the stage, the Nashville-based trio wasted little time in kicking off their concert with “We Owned the Night” the lead track from their latest studio album Own the Night.
The song like most of the material performed Thursday was perfectly suited for a pop-country crossover with mandolin lines quickly giving away to electric guitar leads, and bombastic drums giving those in attendance a jolt to get out of their seats and dance.
And dance the crowd did, many even before the headlining set began, as busy cameramen captured fans shaking their groove things from various vantage points located around the arena including Lady Antebellum’s own “inner circle,” which was located in the center of the stage.
“You guys are getting the butt-shot tonight,” Lady A vocalist Charles Kelley told the small group gathered in the most central of locations. “Which could be very good or very bad, I don’t know.”
Either way Kelley along with the other core members of Lady Antebellum, Hillary Scott (lead and background vocals) and Dave Haywood (background vocals, guitar, piano, mandolin), made full-use of their unique stage set-up that featured two staircases, three giant video screens, and a lengthy runway to lead the group to the center of the crowd.
The trap-door and riser that brought the trio out at the start of the show even got its share of work too, as the device was used to raise and lower a piano, which Haywood played during the numbers “Just a Kiss” and “Hello World.”
Still, it was when the members of Lady A worked closely together that made certain moments really shine. Whether it was the heat generated by Kelley and Scott’s vocal interplay on the smoldering “Wanted You More” or the whole trio’s carefree exchanges during an entertaining take on the holiday tune “Blue Christmas,” the group proved they knew how to get everyone involved in often-harmonious fashion.
And such courtesy wasn’t just extended to Kelley, Scott, and Haywood either. The five-piece backing band, who supported Lady A all night was even given its moment in the spotlight as the whole ensemble took a walk down the runaway to perform “closer to all of you,” as Kelley said.
Such a tactic quickly worked wonders as a lucky 9-year-old girl was brought up to sing with the whole group on “American Honey.” And opening acts Eden’s Edge and Josh Kelley were brought out to weave an assortment of harmony parts through covers of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.”
By the time Lady Antebellum closed their main set with an upbeat take on the anthem “Looking for a Good Time,” there was nothing left but for the group to return for an encore and extended run-through of its smash hit “Need You Now.”
Tugging at all the appropriate heart-strings, the song started quietly before evolving into a crowd-wide sing-along that finished the concert on perhaps the most fitting of notes.
“I need you now,” go the lyrics to the moving chorus. “I don’t know how I can do without/ But I just need you now.”
With Thursday’s show coming near the end of Lady Antebellum’s current tour, those in the audience may have to do without another live gig from the group for the foreseeable future. But for those lucky enough to beat the traffic to get to the concert, the need for more Lady A may be satisfied for the time being. Or at least until next year…
Unfortunately, due to the heavy traffic on and around the UMass campus Thursday, the Underground like dozens of other concert-goers was unable to catch the show-opening set by the Arkansas trio Eden’s Edge. However, once inside the venue Josh Kelley (brother of Lady A’s Charles and husband to actress Katherine Heigl) was witnessed ably keeping the crowd in a party mood during his brief time on stage. Closing his set with the ode to the weekend track “Free in Friday Night” followed by his debut country hit “Georgia Clay,” Kelley even worked in jokes about his guitar tech Andy (a self-described “smoocher”) before including a rap/ R&B interlude into his raucous finale.
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