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Review: Lady Antebellum at the Troubadour

September 16, 2011 |  5:20 pm

Country act Lady Antebellum knows its strengths and they're on display at a tight, focused show at Troubadour.

 Lady Antebellum

The members of Lady Antebellum know what they're doing — they understand their music and how it operates as completely as any pop act currently working.

That's why Thursday night at the Troubadour, Hillary Scott introduced “Dancin' Away With My Heart” as “a really sweet, sentimental song.” And why Charles Kelley said “Singing Me Home” had “a Motown feel.” The group's deep self-knowledge is also what drove Kelley to refer to “Love Don't Live Here” as the first single Lady Antebellum sent to country radio, a typically clinical characterization from a songwriter who values positioning and perception no less than melody and lyrics.

So what on earth was Kelley talking about when he described the vibe at the Troubadour as “very loose”? Thursday's concert was the final stop on a brief small-venue tour pegged to the release earlier this week of Lady Antebellum's new album, “Own the Night.” (“Own the Night: Unplugged” was the official billing, which explained how so many stools ended up onstage.) But even though the show offered an exceptionally intimate look at this Grammy-winning trio, there was nothing untidy about the group's hour-long performance.

Led by Scott and Kelley and rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Dave Haywood (along with a five-piece live band), Lady Antebellum has found huge success softening country's rough edges; at its best, as in the title track from last year's smash “Need You Now,” it shares more with quiet-storm R&B than with anything out of Nashville these days. 

Precision is crucial to the band's approach, especially on “Own the Night,” which sounds like it was constructed around Kelley's and Scott's vocals.

They sang exactingly Thursday, blending their voices with care in “American Honey,” from “Need You Now,” and in the new album's Celtic-tinged “Cold as Stone.” And they made use of the Troubadour's cozy dimensions during “Dancin' Away With My Heart,” enacting the song's prom-night narrative with the kind of stage business they'll have to supersize on Lady Antebellum's arena tour this fall.

The singers' most impressive moment together came near the end of “Just a Kiss,” an expertly plotted power ballad the group extended with an '80s-soul-style outro that recalled the work of another paragon of control: Sade.

“For a song about restraint, that sure got sexy,” Scott said when the tune was over, and it wasn't hard to detect a note of pride in her abashed laughter.

Lady Antebellum maintained this rigor during its (slightly) rowdier material, which included “Lookin' for a Good Time” and “Our Kind of Love,” ostensible rockers designed in the mold of Tom Cochrane's “Life Is a Highway.” 

But the crisp hard-pop guitars left less space for Kelly's and Scott's voices, and the jumpier rhythms meant less time to savor them.

Before closing the show with “Need You Now,” Kelley asked his bandmates to “give [the song] a little tempo,” which they did in as proficient a manner as they did everything else Thursday night. The result was delicacy remade as muscle — a mistake, in the end, but one Kelley knew he was making.


In Rotation: Kasey Chambers' 'Little Bird'

Album Review: Lady Antebellum's 'Own the Night'

Emmylou Harris-Rodney Crowell duet album in the works

-- Mikael Wood

Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times