Monday, June 29, 2015

Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes concert review: Irvine, Calif.

A version of my review originally appeared at 
Photos by Drew A. Kelley

Lady Antebellum's latest studio release is called "747."

That title could easily refer to the Nashville trio's soaring career trajectory since the late 2000s as it steadily racked up chart topping singles, albums and awards.

Seeking to change things up a bit, several new songs utilize pop-oriented programming and loops without being a major departure.

Saturday's sold out, seven hour-long Go Fest show at Irvine Meadows was put on by LA radio station Go Country 105 FM. The event paired one of this year's hottest country music tours with up and comers on a side stage, line dancing, plus moonshine and western wear vendors.

Half of Lady Antebellum's 22-song Orange County, Calif. set (which was being filmed for a future DVD release) concentrated on its quadruple platinum 2010 album "Need You Now" and "747."

Opening with the stomping "Long Stretch of Love," all three members walked onstage in unison and displayed some supple harmonies. The crowd immediately went crazy for the fun and hedonistic, laser lit "Bartender."

When Hillary Scott sang "nothing's sweeter than summertime" during the comforting acoustic-based "American Honey," it couldn't have felt truer. She and co-lead singer Charles Kelley brought their usual intense dramatic delivery to "Just a Kiss" as a sparkling sky scene was projected on the back screens. Later, their connection proved equally riveting during "I Run to You" and encore selection "Need You Now" (Scott is married to the band's drummer, Chris Tyrell).

A spirited "Compass" had an appealing homey feel with prominent banjo and guest mandolin work by main stage opener Hunter Hayes. After Scott praised his talent, Hayes remained onstage to lead "Where it All Begins," a great new song they all wrote and recorded together. It recently entered the country singles chart.

Kelley provided a brief history of Lady A before fervent rocker "Love Don't Live Here" (the group's first hit in '07). Then he, Scott and Dave Haywood headed to the B stage for an acoustic mini-set including the tender "One Great Mystery," a sweet "Dancin' Away with My Heart," Ed Sheeran cover "Thinking Out Loud" and acapella bit of "Hello World." The slinky grooving' "Downtown" was a highlight.

Scott fared well during a feisty take on Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine." Hayes and fellow opener Sam Hunt joined everyone for "Walk This Way." Hunt handled lead vocals on the raucous Aerosmith tune and almost got lost in the rapid fire wordplay. Finally, "We Owned the Night" was apt choice to close the proceedings.

Immediately preceding Lady Antebellum was Hayes, whose hour-long set was mostly a high energy affair.

The young, charismatic singer and guitar whiz began with a breezy "Tattoo," pogoed with his band and barely paused between songs.

A circuitous "Storm Warning" and extended "Somebody's Heartbreak" (containing some call and response action with the keyboardist) were winning showcases for Hayes' impressive fretwork.

Darkly intense rocker "Secret Love" was a standout, as were new songs like the poppy, insanely catchy "21" and "Young and in Love." While the earnest piano ballad "Invisible" (and heartfelt intro by Hayes) prompted some snide comments from a few older male concertgoers, the song has an important message for kids. Buoyant closer "I Want Crazy" prompted young females to loudly sing along.

Since the venue's seated section opened 15 minutes before the music's scheduled start time, I ended up missing most of Sam Hunt's set due a bottleneck jam of people trying to get inside. The college football player-turned-singer's acoustic guitar playing mixed with hip hop proved an odd fit during "Single for the Summer"; the edgy rap rock of "Breakup in a Small Town," even more so. But the energetic country chart topper "Leave the Night On" went down a storm.

Among side stage acts on the concourse area, giddy female singer Cam was delightful. Performing songs from her new Arista Nashville "Welcome to Cam Country" EP, the Long Beach native often came across like a young Dolly Parton and got enthusiastic reactions from the crowd. Highlights included latest single "Burning House" (about a man she did wrong), infectious Go Country fave "My Mistake" and fast-paced revenge tale "Runaway Train."

Amie Mangola's ballad-heavy country set was pleasant enough, but really didn't kick into gear until the Jimmy Buffett-esque "Tequila and a Broken Heart." Earlier, Mo Pitney had a style that brought to mind an edgier Randy Travis. He did a mildly engaging tune about meeting Merle Haggard and a passable cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."

Next: 7 p.m. July 10, Sleep Train Amphitheatre, San Diego, $30.75-$60.50,

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