Since he released his self-titled debut album back in 1996, Joe Nichols has become one of the biggest and most well-loved stars of the US country scene. He’s racked up 10 Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot Country and Country Airplay charts, including five number ones, and released his latest album Never Gets Old in 2017. Now he’s finally making his UK live debut with a short tour around the country, including a stop at St Pancras Church in London.
Accompanied by his guitarist, Nichols arrived on stage to huge cheers from the sold-out crowd. He opened the show with What’s A Guy Gotta Do, from his 2004 album Revelation. The uptempo song sounded great in the space and he had excellent vocals from the off, with his depth and drawl coming to the forefront as he delivered the quickfire lyrics.
From there on out it became a request show of sorts, with Nichols frequently asking the audience what they wanted to hear and them shouting out song titles. He also cracked jokes, told stories about the tour so far and his first time singing in church, and came across as very relaxed and easy-going throughout, which made it easy to warm to him. It’s clear he’s very good at winning over an audience and by the end of the show they were eating out of the palm of his hand.
Although many of Nichols’ biggest hits are his more uptempo songs, he was particularly impressive in the slower numbers. The heartfelt Impossible was an early highlight, whilst My Whiskey Years had a sparseness that put the emphasis firmly on Nichols’ vocals and the raw, honest lyrics. He also did a soaring version of Keith Whitley’s classic When You Say Nothing At All, mixed with the bittersweet She Only Smokes When She Drinks. Before the song he encouraged the crowd to put their phone lights on and they completely lit up the room, creating a fantastic atmosphere.
That said, there were plenty of crowd pleasers too, including the summery, chilled-out Joe’s Place with its detailed lyrics and a rocky spin on the playful Ginnie That Girl. Meanwhile, Yeah saw Nichols deliver some smooth vocals and bringing humorous touches to the song as the audience sang and swayed along, and Brokenheartsville struck the perfect balance between the conflicting emotions of a break-up, with Nichols receiving a standing ovation at the end.
For me the standout song was I’ll Wait For You. I absolutely loved the storytelling in it (particularly the Coupe De Ville reference) and Nichols’ vocals had a great clarity and richness. It definitely tugs at the heartstrings – particularly the twist at the end – and was full of emotion. New song Not Enough was another great moment, with the stripped-back approach giving the track a simple yet powerful feel.
Nichols closed his set with two fan favourites – the light, carefree Sunny And 75 with its huge chorus, and his hit Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off. Before the last song he encouraged the crowd to get on their feet and put their arms around each other, before initiating a call and response singalong over the stomping beat. It was a really fun way to end the night and definitely got the crowd going as his voice rang out, with them whooping, hollering and thunderously applauding by the time it ended.
Overall I thought Joe Nichols delivered a great performance. He showed that he’s an absolutely brilliant showman, with great old-school vocals throughout and a really likeable stage presence. It’s clear the audience absolutely loved him and he seemed very appreciative and humbled by their response. My only complaint was it felt a little too short – he has a huge back catalogue and could easily have gone on for another hour. But given the reaction he got, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back over here sooner rather than later.
Set list: 1. What’s A Guy Gotta Do 2. The Shape I’m In 3. The Impossible 4. I’ll Wait For You 5. Joe’s Place 6. Brokenheartsville 7. My Whiskey Years 8. She Only Smokes When She Drinks/When You Say Nothing At All (Keith Whitley cover) 9. Gimmie That Girl 10. Not Enough 11. Yeah 12. Sunny And 75 13. Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off Performance date: 26th September 2019