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Ward Thomas, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London live review

The chart-topping UK country duo performed at the London venue as part of their current Restless Minds Tour.

Ward Thomas
Credit: WTW Music / Sony Music

Ward Thomas – made up of twin sisters Lizzy and Catherine – have become one of the most successful UK country acts around since they burst onto the scene in 2014. Their second album, Cartwheels, became the first by a UK country act to top the UK albums chart and has since gone silver, and they’ve gone on to open C2C Festival and support Miranda Lambert on tour. They released their latest album, Restless Minds, earlier this year, and are currently touring the UK to promote the record including a stop last night at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire.

Restless Minds is a bit of a departure musically for the band, and it was clear from the off that they’re taking their live performance in a new direction as well. After an atmospheric intro from their four-piece band, Lizzy and Catherine burst onto the stage to huge applause and performed Lie Like Me, from their current album. The stripped-back arrangement featured sharp bursts of drums and a driving, rocky chorus, whilst the girls delivered an impassioned and intense rendition of the song, setting the template for the rest of the show.

Throughout the performance Lizzy and Catherine largely drew on songs from the new record, showing off their wide range of influences and styles – whether it was the light, 80s-tinged Same Love, the ominous piano-led Ain’t That Easy with its huge chorus, or the honky-tonk vibes of the midtempo It’s Not Just Me. However, there was still a place for songs from their previous two albums, including the poppy, stomping Guilty Flowers and a mashup of The Good And The Right, A Town Called Ugley and Push For The Stride. The duo kept the energy up throughout and had a great connection with the audience, encouraging them to clap along as well as cracking jokes and telling stories about their songwriting process.

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What pulled the whole thing together were Lizzy and Catherine’s vocals. They’ve always been known for their strong harmonies and their voices had a lovely balance between sweetness and power throughout. The yearning, stripped-back Hopeless was a good example of this; whilst it could have been overblown, their vocal restraint made it much more powerful. Meanwhile, they showed off their strength as songwriters on songs like the moving Little Girl Sorrow with its vivid storytelling (which drew whistles and cheers from the audience) and the raw, honest No Filter, which saw them hit some huge notes towards the end.

One of the standout points came early on in the set, when the duo performed acoustically. Seated on the transparent boxes which peppered the stage, they opened the section with the pleading, plaintive Cartwheels, which had the audience singing along, before moving into the folky, timeless-sounding No Fooling Me and Deepest You, with its bluesy intro and palpable sense of sorrow. Their voices really stood out and it was a fantastic showcase for what they can do and the emotions they can bring to their music. That said, I also loved the lively I Believe In You, which had the girls jumping around on stage and encouraging a sing-off with both halves of the crowd, and the laid-back, 90s rock sound of Rather Be Breathing which showed off a different side to them.

Ward Thomas closed the main show with the upbeat, sassy Never Know. For me it showed off the fantastic way their voices blend together, as well as their ability to deliver defiant, quickfire lyrics with a light touch. They brought plenty of swagger and energy and had the crowd clapping along, with huge cheers as they left the stage the first time. For their encore, they performed a lullaby-like acoustic rendition of the hopeful This Too Will Pass, which highlighted the gorgeous tone and clarity of their vocals and the audience absolutely spellbound, before bringing out support act The Wandering Hearts for Carry You Home. Beginning with an acapella intro before launching into a joyful, soaring chorus with a toe-tapping rhythm, it definitely ended the performance on a high and drew massive applause from the crowd.

Overall Ward Thomas produced a slick, jam-packed and entertaining performance that highlighted their ability to blend country, pop and rock influences, as well as their stunning vocals and solid songwriting. It was a real showcase for their versatility and how much they’ve grown as artists and performers, bringing warmth and energy to the stage, whilst still having plenty of what fans love about their music. They’ve definitely taken a huge step in a new direction with their latest album, and based on the audience reaction it seems to be paying off. I’ll be keen to see where they go from here!

Set list: 1. Lie Like Me 2. Guilty Flowers 3. Same Love 4. Hopeless 5. Little Girl Sorrow 6. Cartwheels 7. No Fooling Me 8. Deepest You 9. Ain’t That Easy 10. One More Goodbye 11. I Believe In You 12. It’s Not Just Me 13. The Good And The Right/A Town Called Ugley/Push For The Stride 14. Rather Be Breathing 15. No Filter 16. Never Know 17. This Too Will Pass 18. Carry You Home (with The Wandering Hearts) Performance date: 3rd April 2019

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Ward Thomas’ latest album, Restless Minds, is out now via Sony Music/WTW Music.

See Ward Thomas on tour in the UK this month:

5 April – SWG3, Glasgow
6 April – Sage, Gateshead

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