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Carly Pearce, Islington Assembly Hall, London live review

The country star wowed the audience at her first UK headline show.

Carly Pearce first arrived on the country scene with the release of ‘Every Little Thing’ back in 2017, but it’s arguably her third LP, ’29: Written In Stone’, that catapulted her to stardom. Winning praise for its raw yet relatable writing and Pearce’s stunning vocals – including a five-star review from us here at EF Country – the album’s success saw Pearce take the CMA and ACM Female Vocalist of the Year trophies. Now, after making her UK debut at C2C in 2019, she’s back over here for her first headline tour, which kicked off last night at a sold-out Islington Assembly Hall in London.

Arriving on the rug-strewn stage shortly before 9PM, wearing an embroidered shirt, lilac rhinestoned shorts and incredible sparkly boots (more on those later), Pearce kicked off her show with the defiant ‘Diamondback’, the opening track from her latest album. Right from the off her performance was full of sass and swagger, with her vocals sounding absolutely on point and having a fantastic clarity to them as well as depth and tone. The audience roared their approval at the end of the song and from the huge smile on her face – which stayed there for the rest of the night – you could tell she was absolutely thrilled to be back in the UK.

From there we went on a tour through Pearce’s three records, with her showing off the sheer range that she already has in her catalogue. From the playful ‘You Kissed Me First’ and tongue-in-cheek ‘Easy Going’, to her heartfelt deliveries of the traditional country-sounding ‘Dear Miss Loretta’, the bittersweet ‘Should’ve Known Better’ (one of four moments where she made me cry!) and her duet with opener Sarah Darling on her smash hit ‘Never Wanted To Be That Girl’, she really highlighted how incredibly versatile she is. It’s a testament to her skill as an artist that she has such a great set of songs in her back pocket already and that she can switch between moods so effortlessly – particularly when she went into the heartfelt ‘If My Name Was Whiskey’ after a whole monologue about drinking rosé on stage.

One thing that particularly struck me was just how warm and engaging Pearce is as a performer. In the intimate atmosphere of Islington Assembly Hall, you could see her frequently roaming around the stage, jamming out with her band members, and waving into audience members’ phones as they took photos and videos of her, including saying hello to one fan on Facetime before her rendition of the sultry ‘Lightning In A Bottle’. She also cracked jokes throughout, told stories about growing up in Kentucky and visiting Buckingham Palace earlier in the day to see the tributes to the late Queen, and even styled out a couple of potentially embarrassing moments – including breaking a heel on her boots and accidentally calling Bob Harris ‘Bill’, which she blamed on jetlag and wine. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to make fun of herself but also had a real grace and professionalism about her that always made you feel like you were in safe hands.

For me one of the standout sections of the show came towards the end, when Pearce and her band played a short acoustic set. She opened the section with ’29’, where she spoke very deeply about her experience in the pandemic and coming to realisations about what she wanted from her life (as well as introducing her dad, who got a huge cheer from the audience). The song is clearly incredibly personal to her and she delivered it with such emotion that it was impossible not to be moved by it. She followed that with her breakthrough hit, ‘Every Little Thing’, which had a lovely delicate quality to it, and ‘Show Me Around’, which she wrote for her late producer busbee. The song sounded absolutely gorgeous as the crowd listened in silence, with the beautiful richness of her voice filling the space, and it truly felt like an ‘I was there when’ moment. ‘Halfway Home’ was another highlight early on, with Pearce really pouring every bit of herself into the song’s message of romantic conflict and hitting some incredible notes!

That said, there was still plenty of time for fun moments, such as a lively rendition of the twangy ‘Next Girl’ (complete with audience participation) and the slinky groove of ‘Everybody Gonna Talk’. Pearce also showed her love for 90s country and paid tribute to the female country legends of yesteryear with a playful cover of ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ and a sweet, heartfelt version of ‘Cowboy Take Me Away’ (with incredible support from fiddle player John!). She made both songs her own and you can very clearly see the thread that runs through from those artists to her own style.

Pearce closed the main section of her set with current single ‘What He Didn’t Do’, highlighting the power in her voice once again as well as the rawness and pain of the lyrics, before finishing with ‘Hide The Wine’. The song has such a great sense of fun about it and Pearce conveyed that so well, dancing around on stage and giving it plenty of energy despite playing almost non-stop for 90 minutes at that point! The crowd demanded another song from her and she happily obliged, performing ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ with a tremendous sense of joy that you could practically feel radiating from her as the ceiling disco ball sparkled, lighting up the room almost as much as her singing.

Overall Carly Pearce made a triumphant return to the UK and delivered one of the performances of the year. She made us laugh, she made us cry, she showed that she can turn her hand to a sassy kiss-off song as easily as a heartfelt emotional ballad, and she did it all with humour and incredible lush vocals to boot. At the end of the show she promised she would be back, and based on the crowd reaction I don’t think her next trip over here can come soon enough!

Set list: 1. Diamondback 2. You Kissed Me First 3. Easy Going 4. Dear Miss Loretta 5. Should’ve Known Better 6. Never Wanted To Be That Girl (with Sarah Darling) 7. If My Name Was Whiskey 8. Halfway Home 9. Lightning In A Bottle 10. Next Girl 11. Everybody Gonna Talk 12. Man! I Feel Like A Woman (Shania Twain cover) 13. 29 14. Every Little Thing 15. Show Me Around 16. Cowboy Take Me Away (The Chicks cover) 17. What He Didn’t Do 18. Hide The Wine Encore: 19. I Hope You’re Happy Now Performance date: 15th September 2022

See Carly Pearce on tour in the UK this September:

16 September – Gorilla, Manchester
17 September – Oran Mor, Glasgow

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