The one thing that was most clear during Lady Antebellum’s Live on Letterman webcast last night (Nov. 14), was that the three principle bandmates (Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood) were thrilled to be back on stage. As Kelley noted during the performance (watch the full concert now on demand), this was the group’s first full show in nearly six months. “Can you tell we’re excited?” he asked.
A chief reason for that delay in live performances came thanks to Scott and her husband, Lady Antebellum drummer Chris Tyrrell, who became first-time parents this past July. But tonight, it was Scott who probably smiled the hardest and beamed the strongest during the ten-song showcase. “This is so fun!” she giggled at one point.
The latest installment in CBS’s Live on Letterman franchise, the webcast was shot live from the stage of New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater (home to The Late Show with David Letterman), an intimate setting for a GRAMMY-winning group that these days normally headlines arenas (their Take Me Downtown Tour begins in January).
The lucky fans inside the theater were obviously thrilled to be there, too, and that enthusiasm continued to fuel the band’s high-energy performance. “We’ve got fans!” said Kelley at one point, as the crowd eager sang along to their 2010 No. 1 single “Our Kind of Love.” “Let’s take a moment here, I want to soak this up.”
The band kicked off the set with “Downtown,” a No. 1 hit for them earlier this year and the first single from their latest album Golden. They entered the stage from the back of the auditorium after the song’s funky rhythms had already kicked into gear, then dove right into things, Scott sounding–and looking–as sassy and put together as any contemporary ‘downtown’ woman could be, dressed in black, wearing bold red lipstick and sporting leather boots with heels as high the Rocky Mountains.
The set included many of the band’s biggest hits such as “American Honey,” “We Owned the Night” and of course their GRAMMY-winning “Need You Now,” as well as new songs from the newly released ‘deluxe’ version of Golden, including “And the Radio Played” and their current single “Compass.” Throughout the set the bandmates–the three principles as well as members of their backing group–moved easily in and around each other, trading vocals and digging hard into keyboard, mandolin and guitar solos.
Scott and Kelley share many of the vocal leads, and they are a fantastic pair, staring each other right in the eyes as they belt out lyrics to songs like “Just a Kiss” and “Need You Now.”
One of the surprise moments of the night came about halfway through the show. When introducing the song, Kelley teased that it was a cover many fans probably knew, though they were “going to countrify it up.” Then they kicked into “Wake Me Up,” a 2013 pop hit by Swedish DJ Avicii. It’s a song that already has a folk-music feel in its lyrics and acoustic-based instrumentation, so it translated amazingly well and felt right at home in Lady A’s hands.
By the time the 40-minute set concluded (with a passionate version of their 2011 hit “We Owned the Night”), it was clear to everyone watching–in person and online–that Lady Antebellum deserves their status as one of country music’s top draws. They have fantastic and fun interaction on stage, with well-practiced moves and friendly banter, and they appear to be having as much of a blast now as they ever have. Musically, each member of this group has massive chops–and, of course, they have a strong set of songs that, judging from the audience singalongs and smiles, will endure for years to come.
Lady Antebellum’s Take Me Downtown Tour begins Jan. 10, 2014 in Peoria, Ill.