Live: Lady Antebellum Cross Genres, Get Gooey At Radio City


Lady Antebellum w/Darius Rucker, Thompson Square
Radio City Music Hall
Thursday, March 3

Better than: Most things that can actually be described as antebellum.

Two years ago, “Need You Now” pushed Lady Antebellum, a soulful country trio with a chart-topping record and single, out of Nashville and into the pop spotlight. Quickly they were winning not just CMAs but Grammys; their music was being covered by the cast of Glee; and they were being translated into Simlish for video game soundtracks. But Lady Antebellum never sat easily under the country label, pushing the genre to the point where it begins to sound like adult contemporary and “adult contemporary” to the point where it begins to sound like a completely bullshit idea for a genre.

Let’s talk about genre. In an interview that’s going up later today, New York “QPOC” rapper Le1f told me how the music that he and his contemporaries are making defies the term, mixing styles to the point where even trendpieces of several thousand words haven’t been long enough to fully describe what’s going on. Meanwhile, as critics rave (rightfully, I should add) about other rappers sampling shoegaze or approaching hardcore, or dance producers making their 808s snap like Lex Luger’s, country is often assumed to be a bit of a backwater, with parochial listeners listening to parochial artists and Colt Ford as the novelty exception that proves the rule.

Compare that with reality of last night’s Lady A show. After ’90s soft-rock refugee Darius Rucker concluded a wonderful opening set&$151;one that focused on tracks from 2010’s Charleston, SC 1966 but detoured through Hank Williams Jr. hits like “Family Tradition” and even an old track from his radio-blanketing band Hootie & The Blowfish—with a performance of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” the PA began playing standard segue music but sparked an unexpected dance party by playing two LMFAO songs and another by David Guetta. This, again, before a performance by a country act whose singles routinely cross over onto the adult contemporary charts.

That being said, for an “adult” band, Lady Antebellum is remarkably interested in youth: From their latest LP, any of the singles “Just a Kiss,” “Dancin’ Away with My Heart,” and the titular “We Owned the Night” would make a fitting prom closer. “Hello World,” played last night by request, provides a bit of an exception, with Charles Kelley narrating the realization that is in fact his beautiful house and his beautiful wife, but compare this to Rucker, for whom songs like the similar, Paisley-influenced “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” are closer to the norm.

In the moment, on the floor of the Radio City Music Hall, it almost goes without saying how little any of this mattered. What did, of course, was the way in which the group didn’t hold back on a single tune: On the aforementioned “Just a Kiss,” Kelley stalked circles around his partner Hillary Scott, getting so close that he had to joke that her husband might want to kill him after the show, and earlier in the night the group nailed both “Dancing Away” and “Wanted You More” as a sky of stars—a disproportionate number of them shooting—covered the video screens.

The set peaked with an acoustic rendition (“Let’s take y’all back to Nashville!”) of “American Honey,” with Thompson Square and Darius Rucker joining Lady A as the song morphed into the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.” The band closed their set proper with a performance of “I Run to You” in which Kelley and Scott climbed up the boxes that flank both sides of the auditorium, returning to the stage for “Sweet Emotion” and “Lookin’ for a Good Time.”

“Need You Now,” it will surprise no one to learn, served as the encore. “This is their biggest song,” I explained to the woman on my left. “I don’t really know this band,” she had confessed to me earlier in the night, “but I have nieces who are 24 and 21—they are freaking out that I’m here.”

Critical bias: Prone to unsolicited ranting (if you couldn’t tell).

Overheard/Random notebook dump: “Even though this is New York you must get one country station!” Darius Rucker said later in his set, just before jumping into “Family Tradition.” Nope, we don’t, but the crowd carried on a good sing-along regardless.

Set list:
“Own the Night”
“Stars Tonight”
“Our Kind of Love”
“Love This Pain”
“Dancing Away with My Heart”
“Wanted You More”
“Perfect Day”
“Love Don’t Live Here”
“Just a Kiss”
“Hello World”
“American Honey Medley” (with Thompson Square and Darius Rucker)
“I Run to You”
“Sweet Emotion”
“Lookin’ for a Good Time”

“Need You Now”