Outside of a one-off London show in February 2020 just before the world shut down for the pandemic, Kane Brown has been conspicuously absent from UK shores. This won’t be the case going forward I suspect! The queues were huge circling around the O2 Academy in Birmingham for this eagerly anticipated show from one of Country music’s most talented and most disruptive artists.
Kane Brown is a true creative talent: always pushing the boundaries of the genre and never afraid to collaborate or work on projects with artists with a range of Pop, Rock, Hip Hop and Hispanic influences. This makes him difficult for gatekeepers and traditionalists to accept but let’s not get started on why he is potentially the most under-nominated Country artist in CMA history! That’s a whole separate article all of its own!
Bringing Restless Road across the pond to open for him was an absolute no-brainer for Brown. He has been a terrific mentor and friend to them over the course of their 10 year friendship. Fun fact – he was originally asked to be part of Restless Road back in 2013 during their X Factor inspired inception but decided to pursue a solo career instead. Isn’t it funny how things work out sometimes?
Restless Road entertained Brown’s crowd with skill, enthusiasm and aplomb. Playing a mixture of their own songs like ‘Take Me Home’, ‘Bar Friends’, ‘Sundown Somewhere’ and ‘Growing Old With You’ (during which an actual marriage proposal happened on stage! Gotta love those romantic Brummies!) The trio highlighted their tremendous harmonies as well as their effortless and engaging stage craft. Set highlight was a terrific version of the newly released ‘On My Own’. The verses in this banger remind a little of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ with their lilting melody and the chorus is just a pure joy to listen to.
The crowd were appreciative of Restless Road’s songs and charms and I don’t think it will be too long before we see the guys back in the UK again, especially considering the trio’s love of Indian food. A pre-gig dinner at the Birmingham branch of Dishoom went down a storm but we’ve got to take them out to Ladypool Road (good name for a band?) on their next visit to Birmingham given it is the beating heart of Indian cuisine in the UK.
There was a definite buzz in the air as the lights went down and Kane Brown’s intro tape kicked in. Space was at a premium in this sell out gig and a sea of phones greeted ‘Riot’ as Brown and the band took the stage with what has to be one of his most powerful live songs. It works brilliantly as an opener and what followed was a masterclass from one of Country music’s true outliers.
Brown was both thrilled and a little surprised, I think, by the reaction of the crowd and the noise levels and commitment they had to singing the songs alongside him. I’ve seen Thomas Rhett, Old Dominion, Darius Rucker and Keith Urban have the very same reaction in the very same venue so it was no surprise to me! The crowd were great, singing along, dancing and jumping up and down at every available opportunity.
‘Like I Love Country Music’ and ‘One Mississippi’ went down a storm as the band’s energy seeped through into the audience and even on the quieter numbers like ‘Homesick’ and ‘Heaven’ the crowd provided strong and suitable backing to Brown’s clear and rich vocals.
A mid-set mash up of a number of cover songs served to provide Brown with the opportunity to talk about his life, his upbringing and all the obstacles he’s faced. An a capella version of Blake Shelton’s ‘Ole Red’ was a superb way to begin this section as Brown talked about his school days, his family situation and how he got started in the industry by releasing video covers on social media. It felt personal but fun at the same time.
Pre-gig, in our interview that you will be able to read on Monday, Brown told me that whilst he has a lot of ballads and ‘songs that can make people cry,’ he tends to focus on the more uptempo songs live, so there was no place in the setlist for the very popular ‘Whiskey Sour’ but a ‘Katelyn-less’ ‘Thank God’ (she is over in England now so may well appear at the London show) was slick and smooth and live, there was a power in the song that it doesn’t necessarily have in its recorded form.
True to his word, Brown stuck mostly to uptempo songs and closed down the show in bombastic style with a run of absolute bangers. From ‘Grand’ to ‘What Ifs’ the last six songs were a breathless run of bombast, energy and joy. ‘Bury Me in Georgia’ morphed into something akin to a Def Leppard classic in its final third as Brown’s band channeled their inner ‘Guitar Heroes’ whilst ‘One Thing Right’, possibly the surprise of the night for me in terms of how powerful it was live, saw Brown, band and crowd pogoing up down with wild abandon!
‘What Ifs’ was always going to end the show and even elicited a ‘damn, y’all’ from Brown himself as the crowd sang ferociously along to this Country music classic. We didn’t even miss Lauren Alaina, which is a mark of how into the show the crowd were.
Brown talked a few times during his set about wanting to build a crowd here in Europe and wanting to come back with all the pyro, lights and bells & whistles that the American crowds get in the arenas he plays in over there. I’d say on the evidence of what I saw last night that he’s well on his way to achieving this and could easily (and should easily) be able to headline the biggest Country festival we have here in the UK, the C2C festival in London, Dublin and Glasgow each March. Let’s hope the organisers have got some meetings pencilled in for their 2024 line ups with Kane Brown and his team whilst he is over here. It was a pleasure seeing this talented artist in a relatively small venue but something tells me it will be the first and last time we get that privilege here in the UK!
Setlist: 1. Riot 2. Pull It Off 3. Be Like That 4. Short Skirt Weather 5. Hometown 6. Like I Love Country Music 7. Lose It 8. Homesick 9. Thank God 10. Good as You 11. One Mississippi 12. Mid set Mash Up of ‘Ole Red’, ‘Beautiful Girls’, Stand by Me’, ‘Crank That’, ‘Hot Girl Summer’ 13. Memory 14. Grand 15. Famous Friends 16. Bury Me in Georgia 17. One Thing Right 18. Heaven 19. What Ifs Venue: Birmingham O2 Academy Date: 19th January 2023