LIVE REVIEW: The Shires @ RiverTown Festival 2019

Last night (Tuesday, July 9th) British crossover superstars The Shires brought their barnstorming country-pop sounds to the city of Bristol for a special intimate showcase at the stunning St Georges Concert Hall in the heart of the city centre for the 2019 RiverTown Festival.

The stripped back acoustic show kicked off with Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes arriving on stage with just the guitar for accompaniment as they performed a parred back version of fan favourite ‘My Universe’ before launching into an up-close and personal live segment during which ballads such as ‘Brave’, ‘Black and White’, ‘Hard Way’, and ‘World Without You’ were sung by the impressive pair.

The first half of The Shires’ sold-out performance last night gave the duo a chance for older material to be showcased and also for them to have more of a story-telling vibe with the packed crowd. Ben and Crissie both said about their time on The X Factor and gave fans an insight into what it’s really like to be one of these shows.

Ben stated that he was “like yes” when he got the phone call from Rhodes confirming that she hadn’t made it through to Judges Houses, as her missing out meant there was no contract in place to stop them continuing their journey as The Shires.

They also talked about how they met via Facebook and met-up after just one day of sharing messages and songs. This led to Crissie jokingly saying that she had: “told my mum where I was going. I was like, mum this is the address if I’m not back by this time call the police”. This had a big laugh from the Bristol crowd and gave a glimpse into the bantering friendship and bond the pair share as friends and bandmates.

The opening 45-minute segment which showcased the divine vocal harmonies of Earle and Rhodes also included a rare performance of ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ which incidentally was Crissie’s X Factor audition song.

It’s always special to hear songs stripped of their productions and laid bare and last night The Shires delivered note-perfect performances combined with wit, charm and passion. The first half allowed for the crowd to bask in the duo’s sensational vocals as they sang a selection of ballads.

They ended the 45 minute half with a piano-led rendition of the absolutely fantastic ‘State Lines’, a song which Ben confirmed the record label at the time didn’t want as a  single. The decision to push for it to be released was proven to be the right one, and last night they had the whole crowd singing along to the powerful, heartfelt track.

The second half was kicked into high gear when the UK country music superstars energetically returned to the stage for a selection of their infectious pop-infused hits. They started with ‘Echo’ which led to a sing-a-long, before launching into ‘Guilty’. These two songs had the audience on their feet, singing and dancing along.

They then slowed the party atmosphere down and performed the heartbreakingly beautiful ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’. For anyone who has seen The Shires live before you will know that this is always a poignant moment, but last night hearing it in a converted church just made it that little bit more special. Crissie’s voice is so powerful and to hear her deliver such an emotional, and personal song with so much passion and vocal control is simply incredible.

The showcase of uptempo tracks then continued with favourites such as ‘Drive’ and ‘River Of Love’. This segment also saw the duo perform ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ which is a celebration of the growth of the UK country scene. This allowed for the auditorium to be on their feet for an almighty sing-a-long.

The second half came to a close with the standout ‘Tonight’ which had the audience split in two for a sing-off competition with one half-singing “ooh, woooah” with Ben and the other “You’re mine, I’m Yours” with Crissie. They left the stage to a standing ovation after Ben had joked that they needed a “quick encore” as there “are so many stairs back there”.

The Bristol crowd were quick to call back the pair with the whole place on their feet clapping and singing the “ooh, wooah” part of ‘Tonight” for which felt like around five minutes as The Shires waited in the wings no doubt revelling in their much-deserved adulation. However, the fans continued to sing and clap even after they had returned to the stage.

Once the encore was secured Crissie asked “so, I’m guessing you want one more?”, this led to loud cheers and whistles and one audience member to shout “two” to which Rhodes replied “two? can you see this” looking down at the set-list”.

For their encore, the duo treated fans to a wonderfully intimate off the mic moment with a spine-tingling rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’. I have never heard this song performed so stripped back before and to hear Ben and Crissie’s vocals totally laid bare was something truly special. They really do have the talent and on-stage presence to hold and captivate any audience.

They ended their incredible 90 minute set with ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’, this is always a major highlight of any The Shires live show and last night was no different. The entire crowd were on their feet singing, dancing and putting their hands in the air throughout the feel-good anthem.

It’s been incredible to watch the growth of The Shires these past few years and to have the chance to see them live in such an intimate venue was absolutely sensational. They really are a wonderful duo who possess incredible songwriting and vocal talent. They are a shining light of the ever-growing British country scene and deserve every little bit of success that comes their way.

RATING: 5/5

Laura Klonowski

Qualified music journalist! Writing single/album/live reviews, feature articles, interviews, and news pieces. Portfolio: lauraklonowski.com Twitter: @cherylssoldier1 Instagram: @musicandtournews Email: lauraklon14@gmail.com

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