It’s safe to say that Morgan Wade has become one of the darlings of the country music scene since she burst into fans’ consciousness with her song ‘Wilder Days’ last year. Since then she’s released her debut album ‘Reckless’ – and followed that up with a deluxe edition earlier this year – as well as performing at C2C back in March. Now she’s returned to the UK for her first headlining tour, including two sold-out nights at The Garage in London – and not even a train strike would stop us from being there!
Accompanied by a mashup of classic rock hits alongside her own songs, Wade and her four-piece band arrived on stage shortly after 9pm to huge cheers from the audience (who didn’t let up throughout the hour-and-a-half set, whooping and applauding after every number as well as during the songs themselves – more on that later). She opened the show with ‘Reckless’, the title track from her debut album, which reminded me of something like Ashley McBryde’s ‘One Night Standards’ in its sense of resignation and loneliness. Right from the off the rawness in her vocals was evident – she poured so much feeling into the lyrics and it was impossible not to feel moved by her performance.
Throughout the next 90 minutes Wade played a selection from tracks on ‘Reckless’ alongside a range of covers, which seemed to slot perfectly in alongside her own songs. Her take on Miley Cyrus’s ‘Bad Karma’ had a rocky, intense feeling as well as plenty of swagger, whilst her spin on the Elvis classic ‘Suspicious Minds’ – featured on the deluxe edition of ‘Reckless’ – wowed with huge notes and an serious emotional punch. The standout of her covers, however, came towards the end of the set with her combination of The Outfield’s ‘Your Love’ and Rick Springfield’s ‘Jessie’s Girl’. She had the crowd clapping along (with some encouragement from her bassist) and comfortably held her own on belting out the songs. I think the 80s influence slots in really well alongside her own sound and it’s something I’d like to see her explore more of in future.
That said, there was still plenty to enjoy from Wade’s original tracks too. The sparse, cinematic ‘Last Cigarette’ provided an atmospheric moment early on, and ‘Take Me Away’ saw the crowd singing along with Wade as she sang about opening up to a partner on the anthemic chorus. Among her newer songs, ‘Carry Me Home’ provided a moment to rock out balanced with bittersweet lyrics, whilst ‘When The Dirt All Settles’ had an infectious driving rhythm and perfectly captured the joyous rush of being in a new relationship.
One thing that really struck me about Wade’s set was how comfortable she seemed up on stage. In between songs she was cracking jokes with her band and talking about everything from how much she loves the shopping in London and her bandmate washing his socks in the hotel sink on the Isle of Wight, to sending her family a risqué postcard from Amsterdam and thinking there was a snake on stage during her show the night before. She also gave a passionate speech encouraging the women in the audience to get tested for cancer genes, following the news this week that her mum had a double mastectomy (thankfully she’s doing well). It was lovely to see her so relaxed and she looked like she was having a great time throughout the show.
For me many of the standout moments came during the quieter songs. ‘Don’t Cry’, with its frank look at mental health and open yet reassuring chorus, had a stark beauty about it enhanced by Wade’s subdued vocal delivery, whilst the mellow, nostalgic ‘Mend’ was full of yearning. Elsewhere, the frankness of ‘Matches And Metaphors’ put me in mind of early Michelle Branch and Sheryl Crow, ‘Other Side’ had a folk-rock vibe and sense of hopefulness that felt truly uplifting, and ‘Northern Air’ mixed a jangly guitar line with an almost painful sense of loss and regret about a lover who’s moved away, as well as plenty of vivid imagery.
After sending the band off stage, Wade chatted to the crowd before launching into two acoustic numbers. The first, new track ‘Phantom Feelings’, had a gorgeous haunting quality to it, reflecting on the feeling of missing someone who’s moved on, whilst ‘Stay’ showed off the depth and gravel in her voice. She followed that with ‘Met You’, pairing a stark acoustic guitar melody with downbeat lyrics reflecting on a lost love and a plaintive, heartbreaking vocal. It’s a real emotional gut-punch and I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear midway through.
To close the show, Wade performed ‘Wilder Days’, her debut single and arguably her signature song. I felt it really summed up her performance – detailed lyrics, great storytelling, rocky guitars and drums, and a touch of growl and vulnerability in her vocals. The crowd were singing and clapping along throughout and it truly finished the evening on a high, with Wade tossing picks into the audience before her band played us out with some absolutely killer solos.
Morgan Wade’s return to the UK has been one of the most highly anticipated shows of the summer and she certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s a smart simplicity about Wade’s lyrics that make it really easy to connect with the emotion in her songs, and that connection was fully on show last night – both in her delivery of the songs and her link with the audience. Coupled with her skills as a storyteller, her distinctive vocals and ability to infuse every word she sings with raw emotion, she fully cemented her status as one of the next big country stars. She promised she’d come back to the UK, and personally we can’t wait to see her over here again – hopefully playing to even bigger, but just as packed venues.
Set list: 1. Reckless 2. Last Cigarette 3. Don’t Cry 4. Bad Karma (Miley Cyrus cover) 5. Mend 6. When The Dirt All Settles 7. Take Me Away 8. Matches And Metaphors 9. Carry Me Home 10. Other Side 11. Suspicious Minds (made famous by Elvis Presley) 12. Northern Air 13. Run 14. Your Love/Jessie’s Girl (The Outfield/Rick Springfield cover) 15. The Night 16. Phantom Feelings 17. Stay 18. Met You 19. Wilder Days Performance date: 21st June 2022
See Morgan Wade on tour in the UK this week:
Thursday 23 June – Oran Mor, Glasgow
Friday 24 June – Academy 3, Manchester
Sunday 26 June – BST Hyde Park, London (with Patrick Dromey, The Wandering Hearts, Cam, Little Big Town, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss and Eagles)