Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
o say that this was a great week for Little Big Town would be a gross understatement. On Sunday, the quartet won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Group Performance for the mega-hit Pontoon.
On Wednesday, they received nominations for four Academy of Country Music Awards.
So, how you could blame Kimberly Schlapman (the curly, blonde-haired singer in the band) for taking some time during a sold-out show to enjoy the great week? "We won a Grammy this week," Schlapman exclaimed to rapturous applause from the faithful. "I have one more day to brag."
If LBT was riding high off the week, it sure showed in a tight, well-put together, fun, lively 95-minute show.
LBT has been referred to as the country-oriented Fleetwood Mac, and that remains the case. The magic potion that makes LBT special is the four-part harmonies of Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, Phillip Sweet and Schlapman.
There were a tremendous amount of moving parts to the show of country with strong pop, rock and soul elements. Each of the four took turns at lead vocals, although Sweet was limited to two songs (and based on his performance of Bring It On Home, that was surprising because he turned in a soulfully pleasant version). Fairchild is more the powerhouse of the band with a bit of a soulful edge to her singing, while Schlapman goes for the higher notes. Westbrook too, proved of strong voice.
But it was the four-part harmonies that stood out time and again. A good 14 years into its existence, LBT left no doubt that they understood each other musically. No one in country music is doing what LBT is doing.
And presumably on the personal level too. Unlike Fleetwood Mac, there was not any sense of ego in the band about who does what either. In fact, on a good three songs at least, Schlapman was either near the rear of the stage on backing vocals holding a tambourine or side of the stage playing keyboards. Sometimes, Fairchild could be found at the lip of the stage left or right with a conical shot of white light cast on her.
One of the highlights was when Fairchild and Westbrook went back and forth singing I>XX before they ended up in the middle of the stage facing each other. In real life, they are husband and wife.
The Fleetwood Mac reference point was underscored with a sharp version of The Chain.
The band also knew how to make the show fun by including a segment of songs it calls the Scattered, Smothered and Covered series on its web site. As Fairchild related, it's a chance for the band to take it easy before shows and cover songs and give it a country edge. In concert, that meant a medley of Bruno Mars' Grenade, Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger, a different take on Lady Gaga's Born This Way and fun.'s Some Nights.
The songs all sounded familiar, but Little Big Town put their own stamp on the as well (banjo on Born This Way), although Moves Like Jagger just doesn't hold up to the other songs no matter who's doing the singing.
Little Big Town easily connected with the crowd without pandering. Fairchild pointed out that ace songwriter Lori McKenna was in the crowd (another woman stood up, claiming to be her, but didn't fool Fairchild, of course). McKenna helped pen a few of the songs - the heartfelt Sober and Your Side of the Bed. (One aspect that could have made the gig even more special would have been if McKenna joined them on stage to sing her songs).
Fairchild also recalled the band's show at the same venue opening for Phil Vassar almost a decade ago. She said the group was "so broke" and scrounged up the money to make the 20-hour trip from Nashville to open, figuring out each and every expense.
On the way, they stopped at a Starbucks, bumped into a monk, who said he would put them on his prayer list for 30 days. "We needed 60," Fairchild said, perhaps not jokingly. Following that gig, the band's fortunes changed with Boondocks soon becoming their first major hit in 2005. "We've never been able to find our Boston monk," Fairchild lamented.
LBT toured with a three-piece backing band - Johnny Duke on electric and banjo, John Thomasson on bass and Seth Rausch. The trio also played on "Tornado." Duke particularly was impressive on guitar, although Sweet and Westbrook handled rhythm guitar chores throughout. Rausch set a good pace, although the drums proved a bit loud at times.
It should have come as no surprise that Little Big Town was feeling a bit giddy after a great week. Little Big Town should have been most satisfied by night's end as well, driving home the fun with Pontoon, Tornado and a most excellent Boondocks, which started off soft before kicking into high gear. Awards and nominations can come and go, but when it comes down to it, the music counts most.
Kacey Musgraves also had an incredible week. The opening act managed to score three ACM nominations herself even though her debut disc isn't even out until March.
Musgraves may not have displayed the giddiness of the headliners, but she, too, should have been satisfied with her time on stage especially given that the crowd knew perhaps only one of her songs.
Musgraves has a solid voice and opted for a far more traditional sound than the headliners. She rammed that home with the use of pedal steel on songs that tended toward the quieter side.
Musgraves is best known for her current single Merry Go 'Round about life in a small town, which provides a chunk of her songs focus. The theme is worthy, although the Jack and Jill lines near the end were a bit cliché. Still, it's not your typical feel good country song.
That is not the only song of Musgraves making the rounds. She gave her version of Mama's Broken Heart, the current single for Miranda Lambert which she wrote. In fact, a number of songs could easily have fit Lambert's style, although Musgraves does not quite have the vocal power of Lambert. Still, Musgraves acquitted herself quite well.