Almost a year ago to the day, I kvetched in CultureMap about Lady Antebellum's appearance at RodeoHouston being a monumental missed opportunity. Last year, the harmonizing trio was the hottest act in country.
Singles from its second album Need You Now were flying to No.1 upon release and awards from Grammy, the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music were being bestowed as if pre-ordained.
The hitch at last year's rodeo was that Lady Antebellum was slotted on a Monday night. The dead zone of RodeoHouston no matter who is playing.
RodeoHouston rectified that this year by allotting the Lady Antebellum trio — vocalists Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott and multi-instrumentalist Dave Haywood — with a plum Friday night slot in Reliant Stadium. It should have been ideal, but this year the group lacked something equally — if not more — important than a prime day of the week.
They lacked momentum.
Unlike Keith Urban and Janet Jackson who teased RodeoHouston audiences over the last week with sneak previews of tours that were still heading out to a wider audience later this year, Lady Antebellum brought the tired remains of a grueling year-plus tour in support of old album Need You Now to the rotating Rodeo disc.
The wear and tear the road has taken on the band since last year's RodeoHouston performance was evident.
Lady Antebellum's 13-song, 65 minute set included all seven of its hits singles (including four country radio No. 1's) over the last four years, but the delivery felt tired. Ironically, it was the non-hits (the songs Lady Antebellum has grown the least tired of performing) along with one preview song from a forthcoming album that carried this show.
Opening with the 2008 first album hit "Lookin' For A Good Time," Lady Antebellum put its cross-gender country roots on display early only to swipe it away for most of the rest of the set. "Love This Pain" was interesting because it strayed so far away from country with an electric guitar solo by Slim Gambill. It was worthy of 1980s arena rockers. By contrast, weepers like "When You Got A Good Thing," an album track from Need You Now sounded like Kenny Loggins and Faith Hill getting together to do a super-sappy Disney movie anthem.
It wasn't until the new ballad, "Just A Kiss" a sneak peek at Lady Antebellum's future, followed lesser known past non-hit string jams "Perfect Day" and "Stars Tonight" from Need You Now, that the singers and backing band clicked into place and gave the energetic performance Lady Antebellum spoiled us with over the last two years at the Rodeo.
I don't blame the artists. They're doing what a country band on top is supposed to do by playing the hell out of their songs in as many places as possible while the iron is hot.
The problem is the iron is now lukewarm.
Perhaps it's time for their manager or a caring A&R representative at their record label, Capitol Nashville, to look at Lady Antebellum's road-worn faces and give them a much-earned vacation.