The Shires, London Palladium, May 24 2022

Ten years ago, Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes connected on Facebook. At the final show of the tour to promote their last two releases, that connection was still evident. It is a joy to see two people enjoying what they make a living from, and for a massive crowd to be supporting them.

Before an impressive 90-minute set full of hits, two support acts warmed up the three levels of the fine venue. Kezia Gill has just broken into the top bracket of UK country acts, although she calls herself a singer/songwriter these days. Her set showcased her personality and voice, and she showed no nerves at all as the songs she has played hundreds of times reverberated around the famous Palladium.

Her late father would have been enormously proud to see his daughter perform Local Man’s Star, the song dedicated to him in which Kezia wiggled her hips like Elvis. The ballad I’m Here stilled the crowd, while tempo tunes Thirties and Country Song were a great introduction to a crowd who had somehow never heard of her before.

After her set, she said that 30,000 people would have seen her on this tour; even if she converts just one percent of that number to fans, that’s 300 new followers who might join the Friday Night Crew who have supported her in recent years. Set closer and fan favourite Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman was electric even though she was armed with an acoustic guitar. What a way to end a five-week stint opening for The Shires.

Kezia was joined by Eric Paslay, a guy who has been in Nashville for two decades and has visited the UK seven times to play songs he gifted to Music Row’s biggest acts. Keith Urban is about to go number one with a song for the ‘drifters’ and ‘dreamers’ called Wild Hearts, while Love & Theft had a smash with Angel Eyes, about which Eric said a water tower is only romantic with names spraypainted on it. Jake Owen got lucky, with the song that became country radio’s most-played song of the 2010s: Barefoot Blue Jean Night was inspired by a U2 show in New York City, which prompted Eric to give us a verse of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

A master of songwriting, Eric knows a great song when he hears it, and he transformed Levitating by Dua Lipa into a four-chord campfire singalong. His own almost-hits Song About A Girl and She Don’t Love You, a ballad intended for George Strait which would have been a career song for anyone else, were magnificent. At one stage Eric launched into some crowd work, asking various members of the audience where they came from; three of them said Essex! He was so impressed by the word-perfect spectator in the third row that he chucked him a t-shirt; ‘that’s not a towel!’ he smirked when he unfurled the item with his face on it.

Ben Earle is the world’s biggest Eric Paslay fan, which explained the invitation which he extended to Eric back in 2020 when this tour was meant to take place to support the fourth Shires album Good Years. The set opened with that album’s big hit Lightning Strikes, which was followed by My Universe and Friday Night, the singalong smashes from their first two albums.

With the release of album five, the pair have settled into their status as King and Queen of the UK scene, taking the Lady A formula and bringing it fully to UK audiences after their US label was shuttered. A Bar Without You, written with Paslay, sounded great, as did Cut Me Loose, Wild Hearts (not the Keith Urban song) and the sensational Plot Twist with its wonderfully mellow diminished fourth chord. One can also understand why the underwhelming I See Stars was chosen as a single, because Crissie told the crowd to light up the Palladium with their phones in a great setpiece.

Good Years provided the Lady A-indebted About Last Night, which opened with a perfect a cappella harmony, while four songs from their debut album anchored the set: Black and White, State Lines, All Over Again and, in the encore, I Just Wanna Love You, which is the band’s most-streamed hit. Backed by an impressive four-piece band behind them, the sound mix was brilliant and one could hear every vocal and guitar lick.

It was astonishing to realise how many songs the band did NOT play: there was no room on this tour for On The Day I Die, Beats To Your Rhythm, Sleepwalk, Echo, Stay The Night (written by Ed Sheeran), Brave or their take on Islands in the Stream. What a catalogue the duo have.

On a reprise of their recent acoustic tour, Crissie took the spotlight for Daddy’s Little Girl, before revealing that there are two little humans growing inside her. Crissie led the applause for Ben’s songwriting while Ben marvelled at his fellow performer’s ability to get through that song because ‘she goes to some other place’. Her vocals were stunning all evening.

Also present and correct were Nashville Grey Skies, a song about wanting to ‘build our own Nashville’, and Tonight, whose woah-filled chorus welcomed the duo back onstage for a three-song encore which included A Thousand Hallelujahs, which the pair had debuted on Bob Harris’s country show when a skipping CD caused them to perform it acoustically live on air. They were great back in 2015, and they are now accomplished live performers who are equally adept in Hyde Park, the Palladium or in an intimate acoustic setting.

Crissie noted how the pair will need a creche for their next tour. What lucky kids they are, growing up with one of Britain’s treasured duos for parents. Plus uncle Eric over in Nashville!

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