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Country Music Week 2019: Charles Esten, Royal Albert Hall, London live review

Esten silenced his critics by delivering one of the best live shows of the year.

Charles Esten
Credit: Christie Goodwin

There’s a very good chance that when Charles Esten signed up to be one of the leads on Country Music drama Nashville, he had no idea how much it was going to change his life. Already an established actor and comedian, Esten acquired an army of fans for his portrayal of Deacon Claybourne on the show. Even the show had a rocky road during its early seasons, it ran for six seasons and gave Esten and other key members of the cast an opportunity to tour across the world to play the songs from the show live for fans.

Esten was part of C2C: Country to Country back in 2016 and he led cast tours in the UK in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Now that the Nashville is over, Esten is continuing to make music and building on his Guinness World Record 54 singles in 54 weeks. In January he was in the UK for an acoustic tour and this past week he’s been touring a full band show, which culminated in a headline show at the Royal Albert Hall in London that closed out Country Music Week.

Arriving on stage at 8.30pm, Esten made it clear from the opening number Buckle Up that he was going to give his all. Playing for a little over two hours, Esten packed in 21 songs mixing his own originals with favourites from Nashville. An incredibly energetic and infectious performer, Esten always makes the most of his stage by making sure he covers every inch of it and interacting with fans throughout. Backed by a full band, that includes Colin Linden who worked on Nashville and played the guitar parts for Esten’s character, Esten was in his element last night and every inch the showman.

The variety in Esten’s original music is fantastic. He has more contemporary sounding tracks like current single A Road and a Radio, throwbacks like Honky Tonk History, and traditional gems such as the gorgeous Looking for the Light, which he co-wrote for Nashville with Charlie Worsham. For several songs in the set, Esten welcomed support act The Adelaides back onto the stage to sing with him. Those girls have strong voices and killer harmonies and they worked well with Esten. Undermine, an early song from Nashville written by Kacey Musgraves, was one of the night’s highlights as was the gorgeous Sanctuary, which sound-tracked an emotional and pivotal moment of Nashville in season 5.

In the middle of the set Esten performed solo acoustic for a few songs including the beautiful Scars and the defiant I Still Do. He worked in a cover of Lorde’s Royals but he changed the lyrics for one verse and sang about Nashville instead. It worked, the audience loved it and it was a fun moment. When the band returned to the stage, the tempo picked up again with Just Like New and the fun Nashvillionaire. Baby, Kid, Teen, Man, Old Man, Gone celebrated the six stages of a man’s life and saw Esten letting loose.

Towards the end of the set Esten jumped into the audience and sang while working his way around the arena floor. Earlier in the night he pulled up a young fan to sing with him and The Adelaides during Friend of Mine. He managed to make the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall feel incredibly intimate, which in turn made the show a really special experience.

For his encore Esten performed He Ain’t Me before welcoming The Adelaides back for a cover of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born song Shallow and a life-affirming rendition of Nashville’s signature song A Life That’s Good. It was moving, emotional and a fantastic way to end an incredible night of music.

Charles Esten is a remarkable performer. There was some naysaying in parts of the UK Country community when he was announced as a Main Stage performer at C2C in March but last night’s performance, and indeed this current tour, should silence the doubters. Esten has played an important part in helping Country reach new audiences across the world and as a performer he’s one of the best in any genre. With boundless energy, a superb catalogue of songs and an electric stage presence, live show experiences don’t get much better than this.

Set list: 1. Buckle Up 2. A Road and a Radio 3. Honky Tonk History 4. Looking for the Light 5. She Doesn’t Love Me 6. Undermine (with The Adelaides) 7. Prisoner (with The Adelaides) 8. Sanctuary (with The Adelaides) 9. Friend of Mine (with The Adelaides) 10. Scars 11. Mary 12. I Still Do 13. Royals (Lorde cover) 14. Better Together 15. Just Like New 16. Nashvillionaire 17. Baby, Kid, Teen, Man, Old Man, Gone 18. Down the Road 19. He Ain’t Me 20. Shallow (Laday Gaga and Bradley Cooper cover with The Adelaides) 21. A Life That’s Good (with The Adelaides) Performance date: 27th October 2019

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