Saturday, September 12, 2015

Little Big Town, Ashley Monroe review: Los Angeles

Talk about hot. 

Halfway through Little Big Town's Greek Theatre show on Thursday night, the humidity level was unusually high and singer Karen Fairchild (pictured, far left) joked that she never thought about removing her clothes onstage before then. 

Plenty of sizzle seeped into the excellent 90-minute performance, which was heavily weighted toward last year's nuanced "Pain Killer" album.

Originally hailing from Alabama, the quartet continually finds fresh ways to expand their trademark male/female vocal blend. Their long career has reached the loftiest of heights in recent years. When the Country Music Award nominations were announced earlier this week, Little Big Town tied for the most of any artist. 

In Los Angeles, they got right down to business. An extended military march beat intro built anticipation. Then LBT slowly emerged from behind the backing band and kicked off the 22-song set with big whistle-driven hit “Day Drinking.” Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman seamlessly sang the humorous “Quit Breaking Up with Me” together as the guys laid down a slinky twang. 

The bluesy gospel of “Front Porch Thing” was riveting (the same held true for spirited, similar-minded tunes like top 10 hit “Little White Church” and “Pavement Ends”). Bolstered by a three-man horn section, plus LBT’s Phillip Sweet on organ, the reggae-tinged “Pain Killer” came across like a breezy delight and provided an early example of those tight harmonies.

Sweet played Dobro during the Lindsey Buckingham-esque “Bones” (from 2005’s “The Road to Here”) and moved to piano for an equally haunting “Faster Gun,” peppered by Wild West lyrical imagery. 

Before her gentle lead vocal turn on “Sober,” Schlapman said, “We thought we'd never get here,” referring to Jimi Westbrook’s vocal cord surgery over the summer, which necessitated The Greek and other gigs to be postponed or canceled. The soulful acoustic-based love song “Bring it on Home” was a real crowd pleaser. 

Westbrook (pictured, far left) sounded fine throughout the night, especially alongside real-life wife Fairchild during dramatic duet “Your Side of the Bed.” She continued to shine for a pair of sultry rockers including “Turn the Lights On.” 

Rising SoCal singer/songwriter Tori Kelly joined the group for an acoustic take on her own current pop hit “Should've Been Us.” Then the LBT ladies dazzled again with powerful lead deliveries amid “Save Your Sin” and the title track to 2012's platinum album “Tornado.” Here Fairchild donned a black cape, a fan rotated behind her and storm images were projected, making quite an impact.

Most concertgoers stood for the party-hearty main set closer “Pontoon.” Another country chart topper, the stark, alluring ballad “Girl Crush,” saw the crowd sing along loudly. Little Big Town finished with its fervent first top 10 single “Boondocks.” 

Ashley Monroe was overjoyed to be celebrating her birthday with an inaugural Greek appearance. Probably best known as a member of the Pistol Annies alongside Miranda Lambert and a No. 1 duet with Blake Shelton ("Lonely Tonight"), she recently put out third solo album "The Blade."

During an inviting 40-minute opening set, Monroe delved into that lush countrypolitan-leaning collection that was co-produced by Vince Gill and features all-star guest appearances.

Accompanied by a four-piece band in suits, Monroe's pure voice recalled Tammy Wynette during “If the Devil Don't Want Me.” 

A chatty crowd missed the affecting “Like a Rose,” “Dixie” and “Has Anybody Ever Told You” (shades of Lee Ann Womack), but finally paid closer attention to the upbeat “Onto Something Good,” her own bright take on the Lambert hit she co-wrote, “Heart Like Mine” and the fun, barrelhouse piano number “Winning Streak.” 

My review originally appeared at
Photos by Armando Brown

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