Rexall Place, Edmonton - March 17, 2012

Mike Ross, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:22 AM ET

EDMONTON - It’s awfully tempting to write off Lady Antebellum as an unfortunately named flash-in-the-pan that doesn’t deserve its massive success and should be expected to fall flat on their pretty faces when push comes to shove in the cold, hard world of the concert arena.

But only part of that is true: The name sucks. Yeesh, you guys: Lady in pre-Civil War America owned slaves. The band itself? Not so bad.

The worst that can be said about this chirpy boy-girl-boy country-rock trio from Nashville is that most of its songs sound like cover tunes, not counting the actual covers, a bit too many for an arena headliner. For 12,500 fans at Rexall Place Saturday night, in a typically slick top-40 country spectacle, giant recognizable chunks of influence floated by, a grim toll of derivative plundering in the songwriting dens of their hometown. We got a little Fleetwood Mac here, a bit of Bruce Hornsby there, some Pat Benatar, Doobie Brothers, you name your classic rock, there’s parts of it in Lady Antebellum. Oh, plus a plodding rendition of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion.

That these guys can rise above such blithering unoriginality and lack of cohesive sound beyond their massive radio hits is testament to the talent of the three singers Charles Kelley, Dave Heywood and Hillary Scott. Backed by a crackerjack band well trained in the art of country-rocking, the singers wasted little opportunity to deploy their killer vocals. Early on came the highlights like That’s Our Kind of Love and the tearjerker Wanted You More, with Kelley and Scott singing to each other like they meant it. Hello World, an anthem of life-affirming positivity, had the two guys showing their sensitive side. Sample lyric: “Maybe I should stop in and say a prayer, talk to God like he is there,” adding, just to be on the safe side, “Oh, I know He’s there.”

The hits – the reason they’re here on an arena tour instead of still opening for Keith Urban – included We Owned the Night, which opened the show in a Fleetwood Maccy vein, Need You Now (encore tune) and I Run To You (not the Bryan Adams song, but come to think of it, they can sound like Bryan Adams, too). All were delivered with workmanlike precision. But the best moment, the most spontaneous moment came when during the “let’s all gather on the small stage in the centre of the arena” portion of the show when they tried to pound out some Irish jig in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. They didn’t know what they were doing – and that was great. Their own song that followed, American Honey, showed yet another side of Lady Antebellum: A decent jug band. Now if only this band could decide what they want to be when they grow up, we might have something beyond just another hit-making flavour of the month.

Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish hardly had to do anything to make the big leap to the world of country music. It was more of a slight sideways step, basically a rebranding of an existing formula. His solo music still sounds exactly like Hootie and the Blowfish save for some countrified ornamentation. During his opening set Saturday night, banjo and dobro were added to Only Wanna Be With You, and a fiddle solo was plopped into the middle of Hold My Hand. Happy, country people?

All modern country music sounds like ‘80s pop, anyway, so he’s ahead of the curve here. Hootie was mid-‘90s pop. Rucker still sounds like he has a mouthful of marbles and he still sings flat, despite that fact he can belt it out like a champ. There’s a certain amount of corny behaviour he got away with: flashing the Edmonton Oilers logo and the Canadian flag on the big screen for big cheers, making a big show out of which lucky girl was going to get his sweaty ballcap at the end of his closer, a cover of Purple Rain.

Earlier he pulled out a newer original that works on so many levels: Come Back Song, as in “Baby, I know you got your radio on, so this is my ‘my bad come back song.” And it’s also a comeback song – whoa there, brain – as long as one assumes that the female in the song happens to have her radio tuned to a radio station that has the former Hootie and the Blowfish singer in high rotation. Otherwise, what are the odds she’d actually hear it? Things like this keep me up at night.

Perhaps more telling was another choice of covers, the most “country” of the songs he sang. He nailed it: Family Tradition, by Hank Williams Jr.


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