Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Lady Antebellum singer and songwriter Charles Kelley cracked plenty of jokes during the second night of his band’s residency at the Pearl theater Saturday night, including several about the group’s secret weapon surprise guest, pop hitmaker Richard Marx.
Along with frequent Lady A collaborator Nathan Chapman, Marx joined the Grammy winning trio for a mid-concert acoustic set. Once Marx started playing his 1989 No. 1 smash “Right Here Waiting,” Kelley sprawled out on the stage to worship him and the crowd couldn’t get enough. (It should also be noted that Marx looks and sounds as if it’s still 1989). After a big nostalgic sing-along, Kelley was still joking, lamenting that “Now all the reviews are going to be about Richard Marx.”
Truth is, that was just one memorable moment from an expertly designed concert production that fits very comfortably in the beloved Palms venue, which has experimented with residencies from Blink-182 and Billy Idol in the last year.
Lady Antebellum has 14 more shows on the calendar in 2019 and the harmonious trio is off to a fast start. Backed by an energetic seven-piece band, Kelley, Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott open with the rollicking “Love Don’t Live Here,” the group’s debut single from 2007, and follow it with “I Run to You,” their first No. 1 hit. Those tracks set a course for an evening of storytelling and intimate performances that clearly connected with fans and first-time observers.
They also used that acoustic portion of the show to try out a new song that might make their upcoming seventh studio album, a soulful sample of a track called “Thank God for Crazy Love.” Scott then took the lead for “Thy Will,” a deeply personal song she wrote and recorded with her family that slides away from Lady A’s catchy pop and into the Christian country category. Powerful vocal performances like this one are what sets the group apart from its country-pop contemporaries, anchored by the constant, precise blend of their three voices.
This show will almost certainly change and evolve throughout the year — the band is back February 13, 15 and 16 and then again in May — but the starter version has a lot of talking, a lot of interaction with the audience from Kelley and Scott, and a lot of explanation about the song choices. That might come off as an indulgence but it’s actually the perfect recipe; Lady A’s followers want to know the stories behind the music and all the cute anecdotes about their young families. Like Lady Gaga’s new residency at Park Theater, this one was clearly designed as a new special experience for the group’s fans, a reward for traveling to Las Vegas. The journey culminates, of course, with the completely satisfying and infinitely catchy “Need You Now,” which won four Grammys in 2011. Everyone in the Pearl left with that song embedded in their brains for at least the rest of the weekend.