It’s only the second time Little Big Town have made it to the UK – and in fact, it’s the first time that they have performed in Manchester. Add in the fact that they are Grammy winners and have scooped numerous country awards since their 2012 debut album and this goes some way to explaining the electric atmosphere at the Ritz, the build up of anticipation and the excitement in the audience.
Supporting them could be seen as a double edged sword – you’re supporting a big name in country, you could find yourself with a 1,500 strong audience, you could find them keen to listen or you could discover that they’re not really interested as they just want to get to the main act.
For The Shires, this was not a problem. Whether the fans were keen to listen (and most of them were!) or not, they were quickly won over by one of UK country’s hottest rising acts. The duo, Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, have enjoyed a rapid rise since coming together in May 2013 when, following years of effort and paying his dues, Earle posted a Facebook message seeking a country singer to work with. Thankfully, he came across Rhodes.
Appearing with just a guitarist for accompaniment (well for some of the songs anyway), The Shires put on another strong performance following their last Manchester appearance at Band On The Wall alongside the award winning Ward Thomas. Performing tracks such as the stunning Nashville Grey Skies, they show off their outstanding vocals and knack for writing excellent pieces. And whether playing beautiful slow pieces such as their stunning cover of Candy Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free, during which the emphasis is clearly on the sensational, delicate and beautiful vocals, or ramping it up with tracks such as their own upbeat Friday Night, into which they cleverly blend a touch of Uptown Funk, they quickly have the crowd cheering and singing along.
The Shires debut album Brave is set to be released on 2nd March 2015 and is being tipped to perform well. On the back of this performance, it will be filled with excellent tracks. They will also be returning to Manchester on 12th April to perform at Manchester Academy in what will no doubt be an outstanding show.
With the crowd suitably warmed up (even singing and cheering along to Ariane Grande being played in the break), Little Big Town make their entrance to the excellent and slightly heavier than usual Turn The Lights On, quite possibly the best walk on to stage music I’ve heard in a long time. The audience is immediately captivated – nodding, bouncing, singing and cheering along. Another massive cheer follows as they launch into Day Drinking, the first of a number of tunes from their latest album Pain Killer. Each song from their new long player proves a hit with the fans.
As Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet, Kimberly Schlapman and Jimi Westwood each take turns leading on vocals, Little Big Town perform slick renditions of their tunes, displaying variety, poise and, when the song dictates, great energy. They range from the almost movie soundtrack-like Tumble and Fall and Faster Gun through to the truly sublime Girl Crush and fan favourite Little White Church, stopping along the way to sign copies of their album for eager fans and to do a few shots! As expected the crowd continues to lap it up, listening in earnest to the outstanding set. The crowd is a little rowdy (but well mannered and behaved), and Little Big Town comment on how the shows are becoming more boisterous the further north they get – they wonder what’s in store tomorrow night in Glasgow!
Listening to them and watching them perform, it’s no surprise that Little Big Town have amassed a huge following and had such critical success, scooping awards along the way. They deliver an excellent show, perform as an incredibly tight unit and have the songs to back up their reputation.