Country Music’s latest rising star Maren Morris brought her Nashville sound to London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire last night, the third date on a six-show UK and Ireland tour following on from her appearance at London’s O2 Arena in March as part of the 2017 edition of C2C, the UK’s Country to Country music festival which is growing year on year as demand for Country acts both from the U.S. and home-grown continues to rise.
The night opened with Morris’ fiancé, Country songwriter-turned-singer Ryan Hurd, playing the Shepherd’s Bush Empire a few of his own tunes including the massive You Look Good, a recent hit for Country trio Lady Antebellum and the name of their recent tour. The statuesque singer went on to allude to Morris, detailing how song Love In A Bar was written about how the two of them fell in love.
Before too long it was time for Hurd’s better half to take over the West London stage. Kicking off the night with Hero opener Sugar, the mood was set for the night, Morris donning a trench coat and thigh-high blue boots (sourced from Harrods the day before we’re later told), beaming at her London audience who sang along with the hook-laden ditty that surprisingly hasn’t been released as a single yet.
“How are we feeling London?” she asked of her adoring audience. “You sold this place out, we could not be happier to be here, welcome to the Hero tour” she continued, a neon sign emblazoned with the word ‘Hero’ hung behind her shifting hues as her four-piece band comprised of Bennett Lewis on guitars, Annie Clements on bass, Eric Montgomery playing guitars and keys and backed by drummer Christian Paschall, kicked off Just Another Thing.
How It’s Done slowed down proceedings next, the R&B-infused Hero cut encouraging the audience to slowly nod along before the 27-year-old aired her rendition of John Prine’s Country classic Angel From Montgomery. “We’re about to get 1970’s soulful in here if that’s all right.”
Thanking the London crowd for their support she said “one of the first conversations with my label before I got signed – I want to put huge importance of touring over in the UK.” “It’s always been a dream of mine and you guys just care so much about the songs, there are just no fans like you” she gushed before continuing the slow pace with downtempo single I Could Use A Love Song.
Describing how she progressed from being a songwriter to a singer and the associated relentless touring, the Texas native described how she finally embraced writing while on tour before trialling new song Flavor with the London crowd, the instantly catchy upbeat Country candy tune will no doubt make it to radio before too long.
Bringing fiancé Ryan Hurd back to the stage, Morris described next song I Wish I Was as one the two wrote together and led to the title of her album, the Hero cut’s classic Country instrumentation and funky beat encouraging the Empire crowd to nod and sing along with its chorus: “I’m not the hero in the story”.
Guitars and keys kick off Company You Keep, Morris rapping style vocals placing the Hero tune firmly into the pop side of her Country Pop market ahead of tear-jerking ballad Once. Upbeat pop Country took over next with a one-two punch of massive single 80s Mercedes followed by the P. Diddy-referencing Rich, Morris handing vocal duties over to her audience not once but twice for the latter’s chorus.
A soulful rendition of recent Kesha single Hymn was up next, demonstrating Morris’ vocal diversity, the song completely out of Country Music territory, a style revisited for a segue into Beyoncé hit Halo from Morris’ own song Second Wind. Biggest hit My Church was sandwiched in-between and had the crowd not only singing along at the top of their lungs but swaying arms along too.
But the night was closed out not with cheer but mournful reflection, Morris choosing to round off with an outing of quite acoustic number Dear Hate a song, she tells us, was penned some time ago after a shooting in the U.S. but which she chose to record and release following the recent Las Vegas Harvest Festival shooting which specifically targeted Country Music fans.
In this new generation of Country stars, with the likes of Kacey Musgraves surely carving her own path, Morris’ style and pop flare seems a likely fit for the huge void left by Taylor Swift, following the latter’s firm departure from the genre, but that’s where any comparisons should end. Nominated in not one but three categories at last week’s 51st CMA awards and making Forbes recent Top 30 Musicians Under 30 list, tonight continues to prove she has what it takes to drive modern Country forward.
Morris plays Birmingham’s Institute on Friday and Bristol’s Anson Rooms on Saturday before winding up her Hero tour at Manchester’s Ritz on Monday.
Live review and photos of Maren Morris @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Kalpesh Patel on 15th November 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate