Last time I saw Carrie live was back in 2015 at London’s iTunes festival, her performance was absolutely incredible and as soon as this tour was announced there was no doubt in my mind that I had to be there despite generally preferring small, acoustic singer/songwriter style shows these days. Wembley was the final stop on the tour’s UK leg, and having heard nothing but fantastic reports from the previous five shows here I set off from rural Buckinghamshire with high expectations. And I can honestly say I was not disappointed in any respect, the gig was one hands down of the best arena shows I have ever seen, any genre.
The Shires kicked things off in great style, they get better every time i see them and they definitely got the crowd warmed up with a mix of upbeat sing-along numbers ( including the song that started everything off for them, “Nashville Grey Skies” and set closer “A Thousand Hallelujahs”) and ballads (“State Lines” and their slowed down down cover of “Islands In The Stream” being my favourites) and there was a fantastic buzz around the arena as we all waited for the headliner.
Carrie’s band took their places to whoops and cheers before the stage lights went up to reveal the lady we were all there to see standing at the back of the stage. Looking every inch the superstar and dressed in a stunning black and silver rhinestone encrusted jumpsuit (she later told us she was super excited to finally get to wear it having wisely decided it would be too hot for her Glastonbury appearance, “I don’t sweat pretty”!) and crazy high heeled boots she walked towards us and our roars of excitement singing her latest single “Southbound”. She hardly seemed to draw breath during the first four songs, a really high energy start to the set after which she finally addressed us, letting us know how this show in particular was “truly a dream come true”. Yes, right from the start her trademark powerful and flexible vocals, rapport with her musicians and command of the stage were all evident and we were left in no doubt that we were in for a performance masterclass, which is exactly how I would sum up the evening.
Naturally the setlist included all the expected fan favourites from her back catalogue, several getting cleverly edited and strung together in a slightly stripped back medley mid set which worked really well and added variety. Of course “Before He Cheats”, which ended the main set, got the majority of us singing along (who doesn’t like a good revenge song?) and before performing “Jesus Take The Wheel” Carrie told us how on hearing the demo when choosing songs for her debut album she thought how she’d be the luckiest girl alive if she got to sing it for the rest of her life.
Being the “Cry Pretty” tour of course this latest album was well represented, “The Bullet” definitely a highlight for me as it showcased the emotion Carrie conveys so well, although she kept us waiting ’til the encore to hear the title track and the anthemic “Love Wins”. Most of us knew what was in store when it came to “The Champion” – Carrie explained that as much as she likes country she also likes a bit of fun and songs that inspire people to get through tough times… with that in mind she continued the tour trend of inviting an audience member who had overcome adversity onstage to perform the Ludacris rap section with her. All credit to Lois who did a fantastic job on this occasion, and congratulations to her for graduating from law school while also having to cope with the debilitating Crohns disease.
There were a couple of occasions throughout the evening when Carrie picked up her guitar but she generally left the accompaniment to her brilliant band, which included a saxophonist who came into his own on “Drinking Alone” and not one but two fiddle players who duetted brilliantly at the end of “Wasted”. And I must add that the sound quality throughout was great… something that I have found isn’t always the case at big venues and which has ruined concerts for me in the past. The five screens behind the stage made sure we didn’t miss anything that was happening but also showed well thought out video footage relevant to each song. In fact there was so much going on that I felt exhausted just watching!
Thank you to everyone involved in bringing this spectacular tour to the UK, it will be a hard one to follow but let’s hope that there’s another (female of course!) country artist willing to rise to the challenge!
Two Black Cadillacs
End Up With You
Flat On The Floor
Temporary Home /See You Again / I Know You Won’t / Just A Dream (medley)
Jesus, Take The Wheel
Something In The Water
Before He Cheats
Review written by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)