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Concert Reviews:
Lady Antebellum owns the night at the Palace

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012

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AUBURN HILLS -- The last time Lady Antebellum played the Palace was in 2010, opening for Tim McGraw (but with plenty of its own juice thanks to the hit "Need You Now").

The Nashville trio came back Saturday, Feb. 25, not only as headliners but also as rock stars.

Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood wear that role well; this is the band, after all, that sings "we're all stars tonight." Smooth but not necessarily spit-polished, they strode around their flashy, multi-leveled stage with the confidence you'd expect from a group that, since the last Palace stop, has notched five No. 1 country hits and won six Grammy Awards, including this year's Best Country Album for 2011's "Own the Night."

Lady A is clearly ready for its moment -- to a fault, perhaps. While the energetic bombast of Saturday's 16-song, 85-minute show certainly thrilled the sold-out crowd of nearly 15,000, it plowed under what got the group to this superstar point. Lady A is primarily a vocal group that delivers its crafted brand of pop-country with careful arrangements and tight harmonies, which were largely lost in a sound mix cranked high but without balance. Certain moments of the show -- "Wanted You More," "Hello World," "Run to You" and an unplugged-style "American Honey" -- spotlighted its singing, but too often it was submerged in a wall of sound that was the antithesis of the Antebellum charm.

Still, no one was wanting for hits on Saturday night. Following a strong opening set from David Nail (substituting last-minute for Thompson Square, which suffered a death in the family) and a headline-caliber hour for Darius Rucker that included songs from his days with Hootie & the Blowfish as well s covers of Steve Miller's "The Joker" and Prince's "Purple Rain," Lady A came out swinging with "We Owned the Night," "Stars Tonight" and "Our Kind of Love" before slowing down a bit with its latest single, "Dancin' Away With My Heart." Lady A didn't forget its early hits like "Love Don't Live Here" and "Lookin' For a Good Time," though there's really no reason for this group to ever sing Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion."

The production, meanwhile, was designed for the close and personal; a general admission area surrounded a walkway that jutted toward the center of the arena, while the trio occasionally forayed into an Inner Circle of fans set up in the middle of the stage. Three video screens, meanwhile, mixed live-action close-ups with produced material.

Lady A's charm wasn't entirely rocked out of the show, mind you. The trio's repartee, with itself and the audience, remained easygoing and sincere. Just before "American Honey," Scott -- who married Lady A drummer Chris Tyrrell in January -- tried to get an eight-year-old girl to join the group on stage; when she didn't want to, Scott instead sang the song TO her, while Haywood leaned over and gave her a guitar pick. And there was no doubting the genuine camaraderie displayed when Lady A brought Nail and Rucker back on stage for a spirited romp through the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider" and the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water."

Finishing, not surprisingly, with "Need You Now," Lady A clearly owned Saturday night at the Palace. It's hard to fault the group its turn at the top, but here's hoping that in the future it tones things down just enough to focus on why it's there in the first place.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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