Concert review: Lady Antebellum rocks audience

By Mike Hricik

Concert review: Lady Antebellum rocks audience

Three of contemporary country music’s biggest acts “owned the night” in front of a sold-out Bryce Jordan Center crowd Saturday night.

Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker and Thompson Square stopped at Penn State U. as one of the year’s first dates on the Own the Night 2012 World Tour, one of the country’s largest United States tours.

Thompson Square, the musical union of married couple Kiefer and Shawna Thompson, kicked off the evening with a much-too-short 20-minute set.

The pair flanked a wall of amps for the guitar-heavy leads of the male Thompson, delivering a revelatory performance that would far outshine Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Rucker’s set.

Thompson Square opened with “I Got You,” a fun, Lady A-influenced track comparing life without a companion to a car without gasoline, among many other metaphors. The chemistry between Kiefer and Shawna never ceased, especially on tracks like “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.”

The U.S. Country number one single straight from Thompson Square’s self-titled debut album represented one of the highlights of the evening, marking a bright performance for a group that has been hailed as the future of country.

Where Thompson Square felt youthful and vital, Rucker seemed to pander, pleasing audiences with hits like “Alright,” but never reaching beyond decency.

It’s tenuous to blame this on Rucker’s “laid back” feel. He trudged through Hootie and the Blowfish hits like “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be with You,” admirably but with reservations.

Some signs of life did appear on tracks like “Southern State of Mind” and “Come Back Song.”

If nothing else, Rucker appeared happy to perform, shuffling around with a guitar around his shoulder and a near-constant smile.

That wasn’t enough to compete, sandwiched between solid sets from Thompson Square and Lady Antebellum. He was humored enough to comment about his children admiring Lady A more than him.

“I’d like to thank Lady A for making me interesting to my kids,” Rucker joked before ending with a dismal and out-of-place version of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

Lady Antebellum — Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood and their band — dazzled for the diverse remainder of the evening.

If it’s any testament to their prowess on stage, glances from Scott and Kelley seemed induce tears almost instantly in audience members, carried by a huge production.

“We’ve been so looking forward to this tour,” Scott said, reflecting on this year’s tour leg.

On “We Owned the Night” and “Our Kind of Love,” Lady Antebellum owned its larger than life country crossover sound, with the right mix of playful interaction between Scott, Kelley and Haywood.

Haywood’s musicianship shined on a tender “Singing Me Home,” backed by a versatile back-up band. Perhaps the night’s best moment came from covers of “Midnight Rider” and “Black Water” with Thompson Square and Rucker.

Lady Antebellum went acoustic with “American Honey,” laying bare the harmonies that keep the group together. A low-key encore performance of “Need You Now” provided closure to a night indicating country’s future.

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