New York is pretty much flyover country when it comes to the world of country music. In part because the market has no radio station devoted to the genre — and hasn’t for many years — and in part because the ravenously devoured gossip pages tend to shun Tim and Faith, Blake and Miranda and even train-wreck Mindy McCreary, acts that headline arenas in the heartland are relegated to theaters or clubs in the Big Apple.
Significant crossover appeal has allowed Lady Antebellum to dodge that problem to a large degree, but even with their multi-platinum status, the trio only managed a gig at this renowned, but midsized venue (and even then, walkup tickets were readily available). Size didn’t seem to matter to the band, which turned up the energy and the volume with aplomb, hitting just about all of the right notes in a genial, not-too-glossy 90-minute set.
Perf was front-loaded with the heartstring-tuggers that have become the Lady A calling card, and harmony-rich “Love This Pain” and “Our Kind of Love” prompted plenty of swaying, if not outright dancing, in the orchestra. Hillary Scott delivered the most poignant, spot-on vocal performances, and her visual presence is certainly more striking than that of her aw-shucks partners. Still, both Charles Kelley, Scott’s chief vocal foil, and Dave Haywood carved out individual enough niches to affirm that, like Blondie, Lady Antebellum is a group.
Both Kelley and Haywood showed off sharp instrumental skills when stretching out on nicely arranged versions of songs such as “I Run to You” and “American Honey,” which incorporated a verse or two of the Doobie Brothers’ similarly minded “Black Water.” Those two handled the bulk of the melodic instrumentation, falling back on an unobtrusive rhythm section for help, but never ceding the steering wheel to others, as so many modern country acts tend to.
Lady Antebellum certainly pushes all the right buttons in concert — backdrops dominated by shooting stars and bucolic scenery, a careful placement of the hits — but there’s more to their appeal than just that. Their palette is broader, more forcefully colored than most of their peers, and the soulfulness that results is unmistakable.
Darius Rucker, still best known for his time fronting the largely dormant Hootie and the Blowfish, opened the show with an affable set chock-a-block with tunes not far removed from the burnished Smoky Mountain pop he crafted with that band. Years of playing the south’s bar and frat circuits imbued him with a sure-handed grip on an audiences pulse, evident here in engaging covers of the outlaw-country fave “Family Tradition” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.”