A strong pairing on a wet, rainy night in the middle of England did little to dampen the joy and the spirits at this sold out show. We last saw both Callista Clark and Brett Young at this year’s C2C festival in March and it was clear from the numbers crammed to breaking point inside this popular venue that both artists were riding the crest of a popularity wave.
Callista Clark opened up proceedings with songs from her recent debut release, ‘Real to Me: The Way I Feel’. She has a strong, rich voice and a very humble yet engaging way of interacting the crowd. Explaining to the crowd that she was a fan of ‘Sassy Country’, Clark played songs like ‘Worst Guy Ever’ and ‘Sad’ to the attentive crowd who listened, clapped, cheered and hollered in all the right places. ‘Heartbreak Song’, perhaps Clark’s catchiest number at this stage in her career, was received particularly well and it was great to see her finish her set with radio hit ‘It’s ‘Cause I Am’. This talented musician is currently still learning her craft but to see someone so young look so natural up on stage is an indicator that big things lie ahead for her in the coming years.
An elongated introduction to ‘Catch’ heralded the arrival of south California’s most favourite Country son. A sea of phones and arms greeted Young as he hit the stage to the rapturous delight of his Birmingham fans. He’s come a long way from the ballad-heavy songs of his debut album and adding in some sway, some muscle and some uptempo beats to his live repertoire has definitely taken him to the next level in terms of engagement.
Both ‘Catch’ and ‘1,2,3 Mississippi’ got the O2 Institute jumping from the outset. It’s fair to say that Young made a lot of fans at this year’s C2C festival in March and it felt like a whole load of them turned up as personal space was definitely at a premium inside the venue. Young’s show was a carefully choreographed exercise in planning that took the crowd on a definite journey throughout the evening. The opening songs were performed with a mixture of Young pacing the stage with a microphone or standing front-and-centre with his guitar. There was a middle section that stripped things down in a songwriter-meets-acoustic type of segment and then we were back into the more energetic final third of the set propelled forward by songs like ‘Used to Missing You’ and ‘Here Tonight’.
Three albums ( for all intents and purposes) into his career, Young is skilfully managing to shake off the ‘balladeer’ tag that defined his early years. Those debut album ballads like ‘You Ain’t Here to Kiss Me’, In Case You Didn’t Know’ and ‘Mercy’ are the central cornerstones to Young’s live set that everything else is programmed around but there is now so much more to him as a live performer. ‘Like I Loved You’ is now beloved enough for Young to be able to hand the microphone over to the crowd at various points in its chorus, ‘Leave Me Alone’, with it’s almost Reggae-style undertone got the crowd swaying and dancing towards the end of the set and ‘You Got Away With It’, which saw Young come out from behind his guitar, was a masterclass in good-time music delivered with aplomb.
I think it is now time for Brett Young to leave the acoustic and electric guitar behind in his live shows and go microphone only. When he does this there is an energy up on stage, as he paints pictures with his hands and engages the crowd, that dips a little when he stands centre-stage and plays the guitar. ‘Ticket to LA’ is a great song, but it didn’t work as well as others in the set because it didn’t have the energy of Young’s presence working the crowd. As an artist he now has the songs and the beats to sustain that for a whole 90 minutes.
What did work expertly well was the mid-set acoustic / songwriter section. There’s an intimacy to a lot of Brett Young’s songs that flourish and thrive in that sort of atmosphere and as big as he becomes in his career I hope he doesn’t give up on that format. A soulful cover of McGraw’s ‘Don’t Take the Girl’ hit home in all the right places, as did new song ‘Love Goes On’, which came across all Jason Mraz ‘snappy’ in the verses before it settled in something more ‘classic Brett Young’ in the chorus. There was also an extended jam session during this song which only served to highlight the talents of the musicians up on stage with the guy everyone had come to see. ‘Mercy’ was the inevitable ending point of this section but I think it could have been extended and maybe in the future this is what Young confines his guitar playing to as he tells stories and engages the crowd on an emotional and meaningful level?
‘Lady’ had the crowd singing along at maximum volume and it became quite hard to see the stage through the waving sea of phones. ‘Here Tonight’, with its 80s synth-vibes and driving drums closed down the main set in style as the crowd took on vocal duties again and a double whammy encore of ‘You Didn’t’ and then ‘Sleep Without You’ finished things off nicely, giving the packed-out room one more chance to have a good singalong.
From appearing at a couple of C2C festivals, to supporting Lady A to now headlining his own tour, Brett Young has built up a loyal and vociferous fan base over here in the UK now. He’s also progressed his own career and craft at the same time. The ballads were always there but he now has a set of strong, uptempo songs that round out a live performance over 90 minutes, giving a good balance of moods and emotions. As he goes on to release more new music in the months and years to come he can take his live set up another level by restricting his guitar playing to that mid-show, songwriter’s round and acoustic set. I think it’s time for him to take the microphone for good during the other two thirds of the show. When he does that, the engagement levels and energy go up a notch and it suits his style and persona too. He enjoyed the show. We enjoyed the show. There’s still more to come. Let’s hope he doesn’t leave it too long for us to see the next evolution and incarnation of this talented, soulful and authentic performer.
Setlist: 1. Catch 2. 1,2,3 Mississippi 3. Like I Loved You 4. You Ain’t Here to Kiss Me 5. This 6. You Got Away With It 7. Ticket to LA 8. In Case You Didn’t Know 9. Don’t Take the Girl 10. Love Goes on 11. Mercy 12. Not Yet 13. Used to Missing You 14. Leave Me Alone 15. Lady 16. Here Tonight 17. You Didn’t 18. Sleep Without You Date: 16th November Venue: O2 Institute Birmingham