The most notable musician to appear on the elaborate stage at the Sprint Center on Friday wasn’t a member of the headlining act.
While almost 15,000 fans bought tickets to hear top-billed Lady Antebellum, the sound associated with the contemporary country band was forged in part by Darius Rucker.
As the front man of the ’90s hit-makers Hootie & the Blowfish, Rucker crafted a soulful blend of country-inflected rock that serves as a primary influence on Lady Antebellum.
Rucker’s hourlong set served as a fascinating case study of the increasingly blurred boundary between mainstream pop and contemporary country.
His songs tend to focus on emotional awareness rather than on traditional country themes.
Three covers illustrated the cosmopolitan mindset of today’s country audience. Fans cheered as Rucker, clad in a Bob Marley T-shirt, offered heartfelt versions of Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” Prince’s “Purple Rain and “Family Tradition” by Hank Williams Jr.
Rucker joined Lady Antebellum later in the evening for a loose version of the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” and a truncated take on the Hootie hit “Let Her Cry.”
Thompson Square, a likable duo that opened the concert, contributed vocals to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider” during an acoustic portion of the headliner’s set.
The segment represented just one highlight of Lady Antebellum’s magnificent 85-minute outing.
Its performance erased all doubts that the act’s seemingly meteoric ascendance to the top of the contemporary country world is undeserved. Since its formation six years ago, the trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood has won seven Grammys and sold millions of albums.
Its celebrated vocal harmonies were terrific, but Lady Antebellum is most distinctive when Scott is prominently featured. Her voice isn’t particularly powerful, but Scott sings with a convincing tenderness.
Her light touch helped to make “Dancin’ Away With My Heart,” Lady Antebellum’s most recent single, an instant classic. “I Run To You” and the stellar “Need You Now” resonated with similar authority Friday.
A five-piece backing band shone brightest during a rough-and-tumble version of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.” While suggestive, the rock classic didn’t match the sensuality of “Just a Kiss.” The interplay between Scott and Kelley was positively smoldering.
A couple of songs were less memorable. The concert’s opulent visual displays and meticulous choreography couldn’t compensate for substandard material such as “Love This Pain.” Yet there’s no reason to believe that Lady Antebellum’s discography won’t strengthen with each subsequent release. Rucker may have provided the foundation for Lady Antebellum’s sound, but the trio is clearly well on its way to building an auspicious career of its own.