Live Review: Carly Pearce at Islington Assembly Hall

Carly Pearce
Carly Pearce sparkled on stage. All photos: Matt Bradshaw

The scene was set at IAH when the Beat the Street tour bus was manoeuvred into a seemingly impossible space, carrying 2022 five-time CMA nominated artist Carly Pearce and her more than able support act Sarah Darling.

Georgie Thorogood writes:

Having not been to IAH previously, I wasn’t sure what to expect, so full marks to the great turn out of Sarah Darling fans which meant that the whole evening was buzzing, right from the very first song.

After a great opening set and a (relatively) short stage changeover, a great roar of appreciation met Carly Pearce as she strutted onto the stage alongside her musicians with drums, bass, a fiddle and steel guitar. The first bars of Diamond Back felt very atmospheric and really got the crowd going, as did the sparkle off the rings on her left hand!

Carly Pearce in London
Telling stories of her time in London

A self-professed lover of talking, Carly told of a visit to Buckingham Palace and Green Park with her band, acknowledging the loss of HM The Queen, which must have been quite a moment for a band of Americans, not so used to the pomp and ceremony as those of us based in the UK.

There was one awkward moment when Carly mistook the name of the legendary Bob Harris for Bill mid-set – slightly overshadowing a lengthy “thank you” speech – but luckily she owned it and the audience was left firmly on her side, warmly embracing her for being human!

You Kissed Me First was a throwback to Pearce’s 2020 self-titled album, letting everyone know that she’d be covering some of her back catalogue, not only the awesome 29:Written in Stone album that has brought her so much success. The twang of Easy Going included a long steel and fiddle instrumental, really cementing that she is a true country artist, (in my opinion) unlike some of the more pop-country crossovers hitting the charts currently.

Carly Pearce at Islington Assembly Hall

Dear Miss Loretta, a favourite of this author, was up next and is clearly a very personal song as it was her grandmother who was one of the first people to encourage her into country music, by telling her that she should love Loretta Lynn. Carly has made it her own, with lyrics relating to her own personal situations, and this version saw an extra acoustic guitar replace the fiddle.

One of the moments that defines Carly as a true live performer as well as a recording artist, came during Should’ve Known Better when she had a footwear mishap, breaking the heel of her boot. Trying to soldier on, she continued the set with Never Wanted To Be That Girl, her number one duet with Ashley McBryde (Sarah Darling taking the place of McBryde for this performance). This of course, was a huge favourite with the crowd and everyone was singing along. A short pause ensued whilst the offending boot was changed and we were off again.

Carly Pearce on stage in London

Emotions were running high with stories of Busbee, the top-class producer who worked with Carly (as well as other huge artists such as Maren Morris) before losing a battle with cancer, aged 43. If My Name Was Whiskey was the first song written alongside both Busbee and Shane MacAnally, who has since replaced Busbee as primary producer for Carly’s newest music. Halfway Home continued a deeper moment in the set, bringing the focus back to her self-titled 2020 album, following this up with Lightning In The Bottle.

Audience engagement was high on the priorities list throughout the set and Carly took a moment to single out a lady in the audience who had a friend on Facetime – the friend being unable to attend the gig due to having a small baby. The good vibes in the room were growing all the time. 

Carly Pearce fiddle
Play that fiddle Jonny Mo

Bringing back some awesome production, the lighting and atmosphere was electric for a full audience rendition of Next Girl. Extra electric guitars, huge cheers and a very energetic performance were a highlight of the entire set. Making the most of this upturn, Carly played a couple of tracks at this level, rounding off with a rendition of Man, I Feel Like A Woman.

Changing the tempo again, most of the band took a break, leaving just a fiddle, an acoustic guitar and Carly on stage. Reminiscing the last time she played the UK, as an engaged woman, she recounted a period of time where she returned to her hometown to spend time with her parents, and being given the strength to tell it as it is, make difficult decisions and come out the other side.

29 brought a spine-tingling fiddle to the stage and tears to the audience’s eyes and Every Little Thing saw the addition of a mandolin. Show Me Around was another hugely emotional song for Carly, as she had written this after attending Busbee’s funeral.

Spotlight on Carly Pearce
In the spotlight – Carly Pearce and her band

The band returned for the next cover of the evening, a fantastic version of The Chicks’ Cowboy, Take Me Away.  Explaining that ABC was attending this part of the tour with her for an upcoming show, Carly then took the time to thank all her team who work so hard behind the scenes. A nice touch, especially as a lot of the Big Machine UK team were attending the gig.

Current single, What He Didn’t Do, is clearly a huge fan favourite and got the crowd going once again. Following on with Devil’s In The Detail and then finishing the show with Hide The Wine, one was reminded how many fantastic songs Carly actually has.

An encore of Hope You’re Happy Now and a reminder that she is currently ACM and CMA Female Vocalist of the Year left the audience in no doubt that there is much more to come from this really popular artist. The sparkly lights around the venue gave such a feel-good vibe and everyone left the Assembly Hall on a huge high.

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