Country megastar Taylor Swift headlined the Tacoma Dome on Aug. 31 followed by the formidable one-two punch of Craig Morgan and Trace Adkins kicking off the Washington State Fair concert series last weekend. Then - as if local country fans weren't spoiled enough - Little Big Town dropped by to headline the Fair grandstand on Monday, a raucously received appearance before the quartet headed back out on the road with Keith Urban's Light the Fuse tour.
Little Big Town is enjoying the hottest streak of its 15-year career having scored its first No. 1 on the country album charts with “Tornado” last year and a Grammy for its laid back summer jam, “Pontoon.” Curly-maned singer Kimberly Schlapman acknowledged her band's big year a few songs into her band's soulful, harmony-rich set.
“We can thank all of y'all, the Good Lord and a song about a boat,” she declared. The mere mention of LBT's smash hit triggered rumbling waves of thunder from the bleachers as many of the 6,500-plus on hand stomped their approval.
“I've never seen such anticipation for some motorboatin'” Schlapman added, flashing a coy, dimply grin. Fans had been with the band from the opening notes of “Little White Church,” but they seemed to turn their enthusiasm up a notch at this point.
Backed by a three-piece touring band, the members of Little Big Town – also Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet – took turns leading songs. Schlapman's early set showpiece was “Sober,” a tribute to the intoxicating power of love. Sweet took the helm on the equally romantic “Bring It On Home.” And Westbrook and Fairchild brought palpable desperation to “Your Side of the Bed,” a song about strained relations that had some fans worried about the state of their marriage. (In reality, things seem to be going pretty well.)
Fairchild seemed to take charge during the latter half of the set, really catching fire with her sassy lead vocal on “Good As Gone.” But, more than anything, Monday's set was a showcase of the band's easy chemistry and lush harmonizing, perhaps best exemplified by their cover of Fleetwood Mac's “The Chain.” The song lilted fans before building to an epic, flickery finale with guitarist Johnny Duke convincingly channeling Mac's Lindsey Buckingham.
“If you can't sing that one and lay it all out, you can't sing a song,” Fairchild joked, acknowledging LBT's 2006 appearance with Buckingham on “CMT Crossroads” as a pivotal moment for her band.
“Pontoon” drifted into the set before the encore. Fans cooed and sang along to to lyrics about floating the river and soaking up sunshine, as fitting a celebration of waning summer as any. But as enthusiastic as the crowd's response was to that song, it was eclipsed by the uproar for 2005 hit, “Boondocks.” The faithful stomped to the rhythm and howled so loudly during the final that Westbrook had to take a moment before getting the song started again. Not that he minded with love like that being heaped on his band these days.
Set list: Little White Church, On Fire Tonight, Bring It On Home, Pavement Ends, Bones, Sober, Front Porch Thing, Your Side Of the Bed, Leavin’ In Your Eyes, The Chain (Fleetwood Mac), Can’t Go Back, A Little More You, I’m With the Band, Good As Gone, Self Made, Pontoon
Encore: Tornado, Boondocks