Live Review: Kelsea Ballerini (Under The Bridge, London)

Ciara Headlines, Live Review

It’s been almost two years to the day since Kelsea Ballerini released her debut album The First Time, and yet last night’s gig at Under The Bridge was the first time she’d hit UK shores to perform. The anticipation was palpable and we were in for a real treat from the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter.

The night was already off to a good start as I walked into the venue to be greeted by the sound of Zac Brown Band, Old Dominion and Blake Shelton songs blasting through the speaker system. Although Kelsea wasn’t due on stage until 9pm, there was already a long line of fans waiting outside Under The Bridge who came in as soon as doors opened to secure the best spaces. Knowing who the opening act was, I’m sure they were glad that they arrived early to see her perform.

Catherine McGrath has become a recognisable name in the UK country music scene over the past few months, having opened for just about anyone touring the country, from The Shires to Canaan Smith to Cam and now Kelsea. As she walked on stage, she made sure to immediately introduce herself to the crowd, talking about how she used to queue for concerts like this and how excited she was to support Kelsea tonight.

Her set kicked off with perhaps her most well-known song to date, Hell Would Have To Freeze Over, a poppy number about what an ex would have to do to win her back. She take the time to explain the inspiration behind each song she plays, from Starting From Now about trying not to let heartbreakers back into your life, and a song called Cinderella co-written with Nashville songwriter Liz Rose. Rose famously helped to write many of Taylor Swift’s country-era songs, and there are many allusions that can be made between Swift and McGrath, from the way they base songs on personal experience to even their style of singing. Hopefully this bodes well for Catherine’s career trajectory!

She already seems pretty well known though, and it’s nice to see members of the crowd already singing along to her songs. The applause grows steadily after each song, and following a performance of recent single Just In Case, I hear the people next to me comment “she’s got a great voice” – some new fans there already.

She finishes her set with two slower songs, She’ll Never Love You and Never Want To Fall In Love, which although not as easy to dance along to, highlight her fantastic vocal range hitting some impressive high notes, and allow her guitarist and drummer to shine. We also get a sneak peek of unreleased song Wild written about a guy still in love with someone else, my favourite song of her set. The story-telling lyrics are truly country, and point to Catherine as definitely one to watch. I look forward to seeing her headline a show at some point soon.

A short while later, the lights go down, video screens at the back of the stage start flashing and the opening chords of Yeah Boy begin to play. This is followed by a huge roar as Kelsea takes to the stage, unsurprising this being her first show in the UK. As she sings, her energy is palpable and this permeates the crowd who continue singing at the top of their lungs when Kelsea points the microphone in our direction during Looking At Stars.

It’s hard not to love Kelsea as the first thing she says to the crowd is “OH MY GOD! This is my first even show in the UK, I was worried no one was going to show up!” Needless to say, the gig sold out in under an hour. She gets into the crowd to perform my favourite track from The First Time, Square Pegs, before returning on stage to perform a high-energy version of her hit song Dibs, dancing around the stage and making it obvious that she was having just as much fun as all of us were. ‘One for the girls’ track Stilettos was followed by super fun Roses, which she confirmed will be on album #2, and I can assure will have you dancing round your room within seconds.

We were treated to a number of unreleased songs and things were slowed down for an acoustic version of High School and summer jam We Were Like. Without a doubt, my favourite new song was I Hate Love Songs, an almost satirical anti-love-song love song with lyrics like “I hate Shakespeare and Gosling and cakes with white frosting, two names in a heart shaped tattoo / I think Cupid is stupid and violets are purple, not blue / I hate catching bouquets, the honeymoon phase and letterman jackets don’t fit / Your eyes can’t hold stars and you’d die if your heart really skipped” It’s a lot of fun and a really catchy tune at that, so I’m certainly looking forward to hearing the studio version if one is released.

Kelsea performed a few mashups too, including a country love song mix of Girl Crush and Blue Ain’t Your Color, and a pop mashup detailing the story of a relationship, ranging from James Bay’s Let It Go to Justin Bieber’s Sorry and One Republic’s Apologise. I’m sure all artists involved would have been very proud to have their songs covered by such a talented artist!

The show finished with some of Kelsea’s biggest hits to date, including Sirens and Peter Pan, which again, the crowd were more than happy to take over singing whenever Kelsea stopped, and XO, her first UK single, the exposure of which will hopefully encourage Kelsea to come back across the pond more often. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her next March as a headliner at C2C Country 2 Country, if not before. Here’s hoping!

She walked off stage with a huge smile on her face, but it wasn’t long before the crowd began chanting ‘Kelsea’ and so she appeared a few minutes later literally right in the middle of the standing crowd, guitar in hand to perform The First Time. Although the lack of stage meant people on the other side of the room weren’t able to see her, it was incredible to hear just how her voice filled the entire venue, creating a truly magical experience. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a Kelsea show without ending on Love Me Like You Mean It, where the energy was turned up to eleven and left us all buzzing even after she’d left the stage for the final time. Kelsea, we welcome you back soon with open arms!

Let us know your thoughts on the review, Kelsea or Catherine, as well as checking out some exclusive photos and videos from the gig on Twitter @CiarasCountry and @nashoverhere, and stay tuned for more reviews and interviews coming soon!

Hailing from Knoxville, TN, singer/songwriter Kelsea Ballerini moved to Nashville, TN at age 15 to chase the dream of becoming a songwriter. At age 19, Kelsea signed a publishing deal with Black River Publishing in 2013. Later that year, Kelsea signed a record deal with Black River Entertainment and her single, “Love Me Like You Mean It” from her debut EP is digitally available now. Kelsea's full length album, The First Time, is set to release on May 19th.

(Biography sourced from: Artist Website)

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Ciara

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Hi! I'm Ciara, long time country music fan, host of 'Ciara's Country' on Purple Radio, and blogger on a mission to bring country music to a wider audience in the UK by proving it's not all about trucks and banjos! I love all kinds of contemporary country, from big Nashville names to the latest UK artists – I'll listen to just about anything. You can normally find me reviewing and interviewing artists at any country music gigs I can find in London or scouring social media looking to find the next big thing!