Nashville In Concert | Review
The SSE Arena, Belfast • Tuesday 20 June ’17
By Neil Trelford (Author of The Youth Club)
Photography: Tremaine Gregg
On an evening as hot as their hit US TV show, the stars of Nashville ride into town for their first performance at a packed SSE Arena in Belfast.
Whilst it is the last show of their UK and Ireland Tour the posse of singing stars were not about to fizzle out. Right from the cast introduction on the stage-side video screens, the eagerly awaiting Belfast fans were induced to a Beatles-like teenage screaming rapture.
With the strongest cast of the tour, the five fan favourites were geared up for a spectacular Tennessee jamboree and each were vociferously cheered in turn.
Chris Carmack who plays Will Lexington, Jonathan Jackson who is Avery, The Australian belle Clare Bowen who plays Scarlett and English heartthrob Sam Palladio who plays Gunnar Scott, finishing with the loudest cheer for last up Charles Eston, Deacon to the TV show fans.
Then as the man himself, Charles Eston donning a white open neck shirt, smart blazer and authentic jeans, bounced onto the stage for the first song of the night the decibels hit the arena roof.
“Are you ready, Belfast?”he teased as he broke into the deliberate ‘Buckle Up’, a subliminal memorandum advising the already delirious Belfast crowd to strap safely in for a country rock’n’rollercoaster ride.
It was a white knuckle ride about the characters’ and the artists’ lives through the five seasons of the show. A well choreographed blend of old songs, new songs and cover versions were weaved into spectacular solo performances, dynamic duets and colossal full cast collaborations.
The rugged Chris Carmack in jeans and sultry black shirt wooed the cowgirls in the audience with a couple of touching country mantras ‘What If I Was Willing’ and ‘Being Alone’.
And then the almost Indie-Rock dressed Jonathan Jackson had the whole house rocking with a Season One favourite ‘Keep Asking Why’ before slowing the pace down with his mesmerising southern charm as he delivered his prayer-like cover of the U2/Bob Dylan penned ‘Love Rescue Me’.
Jackson was proving he was a hard act to follow but the new look Sam Palladio with his bleach blonde hair and bubblegum rocker look showed just how versatile and talented an artist he is.
The romantic ‘I Will Fall’ rallied with his own original ‘Hello Heartbreak Blues’ paved the way for the first duet of the night.
A fairy-like Clare Bowen floated on stage to join Sam for the unapologetically sweet ‘Fade Into You’. This was a slow intimate number allowing the fans to catch their breath just in time to stomp and clap along to one of the evening’s highlights.
From Season Three the barn-dance country boom of ‘Borrow My Heart’ performed by the first collaboration of the show, the re-united band The Exes featuring the characters Gunnar, Scarlett and Avery.
The show continued with glorious performance after glorious performance.
The duet of ‘Hand to Hold’ by Clare and Charles and the collaboration of Chris, Sam, Clare and featuring Clare’s fiancé, guitarist and singer Brandon Young on ‘Stand Up’ saw Clare, Charles and Chris all delve into the ocean of elated fans.
This was a poignant touch that reminded us all that these cast members are not only amazing actors, performers, songwriters and musicians but they are humble and truly appreciative of their following. What a memorable night for some who got to dance with or touch their idols.
Daring but brilliantly gritty cover versions of Echo and The Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’ and James Taylor’s ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ were delivered impeccably by Jackson and Palladio respectively.
But nothing would overshadow the three other powerful solo performances.
Jonathan Jackson’s dedication to his wife of ‘Unchained Melody’ serenaded the audience into jaw-dropping awe and undoubtedly a few tears.
Clare Bowen’s power ballad of heart-wrenching endearment ‘Black Roses’ earned an equally as powerful standing ovation.
Charles Eston brought the main set to a close with a raucous Springsteen-style bravado, bellowing out ‘He Aint Me’, a song reflecting on his character’s lovelorn tribulations.
But there would be no such tribulations for the crescendo of the night.
The encore was a juggernaut of harmony in Grand Ole Opry fashion.
A touching rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ led to ‘One More Song’ and then the finale, the show’s most regular recognisable anthem ‘A Life That’s Good’.
Fans and stars in unison singing Belfast’s first Nashville season to a close.