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Brothers Osborne, O2 Academy Islington, London live review

The duo brought their brand of high-energy country-rock to London ahead of playing Download Festival.

Brothers Osborne
Credit: Snakefarm Records

Since they made their UK debut at C2C 2017, Brothers Osborne – made up of siblings John and TJ – have been frequent visitors to this side of the pond, most recently back in December. Their unique blend of country and rock, along with John’s guitar-playing skills and TJ’s distinctive vocals, have made them a huge hit with country fans here and won them critical acclaim for their latest album, 2018’s Port Saint Joe. Ahead of their set at Download Festival this weekend, last night the duo stopped off at Islington’s O2 Academy to play an intimate sold-out show.

Accompanied by their band, John and TJ arrived on stage to huge cheers and launched into Stay A Little Longer, from their debut album Pawn Shop. It’s a fan favourite and from the reaction in the room it was the perfect start to the show, with the crowd singing along in full voice from the off and not letting up for the next hour and a half. John got the first of many chances to show off his incredible guitar-playing, switching effortlessly from a bluesy groove to a heavy, distorted riff, which TJ’s deep, gravelly vocals complemented perfectly.

Throughout their set the band performed songs from across both their albums, as well as a few bonus tracks like a pounding rendition of Burning Man, their duet with Dierks Bentley. They struck a great balance between the rockier numbers, such as the heavy, crunching Pawn Shop and the anthemic Down Home with its jolts of drums and lightning-quick guitar playing from John, with more mellow tracks like Rum (which ended with the crowd swaying along and singing along) and Tequila Again, with its tongue-in-cheek lyrics that highlighted their harmonies. That said, there were plenty of nods to classic country too, such as the honky-tonk keyboards on Drank Like Hank, an early highlight which saw TJ holding his fist in the air and asking the crowd if they were ‘ready to f***in’ party?’. The deafening roar in response said everything.

Of course one of the highlights of a Brothers Osborne show is John’s guitar-playing, and this was no exception. He showed just how versatile he is as a guitar player, running the gamut of styles from blues to funk to classic rock throughout, with his fingers flying up and down the necks of the instruments and getting some incredible sounds out of them. Shoot Me Straight was a particular highlight, with its crunching riff and fiery finale, whilst 21 Summer brought out his more laid-back side with its sparse, picked melody. He also gave an incredibly animated performance throughout, frequently getting lost in the music and completely throwing himself into it.

TJ was also in fine form, stalking about the stage and frequently encouraging the crowd to sing and clap along (not that they needed any help!). I thought his vocals particularly shone in the slower numbers, such as the subdued, emotional I Don’t Remember Me (Before You) and Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive), which showed off his softer side and was full of conviction. Weed, Whiskey And Willie was among the highlights, with TJ’s measured delivery adding weight to the song and an a capella section at the end that saw him hit a huge note! The crowd sang along to the final chorus and as the song drew to a close, TJ commented, ‘that just made the trip’.

The duo closed the main portion of their set with It Ain’t My Fault. It started with a lonesome guitar intro from John before launching into a full-throttle stomping performance, with TJ encouraging the audience to join in a raucous call-and-response singalong. The middle section was almost completely stripped back except for keyboards, giving the song an almost haunting feel, then giving each of the band members a chance to shine as the layers built back up into a wall of sound. John finished things off with a rocky, wailing guitar version of the Beatles’ classic Eleanor Rigby before going into a thunderous, frenetic finish. The crowd burst into enormous cheers as the song ended and began singing the riff demanding more.

For their encore, the band brought Lucie Silvas out to perform the ballad Loving Me Back from their first album. The arrangement of the song put the emphasis firmly on the vocals, and her husky yet delicate tones blended really nicely with TJ’s powerful, controlled sound, especially on the soaring chorus, and at the end when she hit a massive note. The trio then brought support act Jon Green out for a rendition of With A Little Help From My Friends, with a thumping beat and organ intro that gave it a rollicking barroom feel. It was an absolutely joyous moment as the whole room burst into song and there was plenty of whooping and hollering from the audience throughout, as well as wild cheers when the song drew to a close.

It feels like there really aren’t enough superlatives to describe Brothers Osborne at this stage. Although they sound absolutely fantastic on record, their live performances take it to a completely different level. For me they’re one of the most consistent live acts in the country scene right now; you know you’ll always get a great show from them and will never leave disappointed. The 90-minute set absolutely flew by and I could have easily watched them for another hour; they just have such great energy on stage and TJ in particular knows how to work a crowd. Throw in John’s world-class guitar playing and TJ’s growly, edgy vocals and it’s obvious that they’re a really special act and that the UK audience loves them – and from the looks on their faces throughout, the feeling is clearly mutual. As they left the stage for the second time, TJ promised that ‘we’ll be back’. Based on the buzz from audience members last night, that can’t come soon enough.

See Brothers Osborne at Download Festival this weekend:

Saturday 15th June – 4PM, Zippo Encore Stage, Donington Park

Set list: 1. Stay A Little Longer 2. Pawn Shop 3. Drank Like Hank 4. Shoot Me Straight 5. I Don’t Remember Me (Before You) 6. Weed, Whiskey And Willie 7. Down Home 8. Rum 9. Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive) 10. Tequila Again 11. 21 Summer 12. Burning Man 13. It Ain’t My Fault 14. Loving Me Back (with Lucie Silvas) 15. With A Little Help From My Friends (Beatles cover) (with Lucie Silvas and Jon Green) Performance date: 14th June 2019

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