Ashley Monroe / Sean McConnell - Bush Hall
To say expectations were high for this evening would be something of an understatement, Ashley's last appearance post C2C 2017 at the same venue with Miranda Lambert in tow, saw some one of the best audience reactions we've ever witnessed at Bush Hall. Tonight people have been assembling since mid afternoon to get a prime spot and many more were lined up in the cold and rain for a good 90 minutes prior to doors opening.
First up was #TEAMw21 favourite Sean McConnell, his last visit publicising his self titled album may have been a tad low key but tonight he was getting to show his talents in front of large incredibly attentive audience in a venue deserving of his skills. Taking to the stage with just a guitar and harmonicas, his set was designed to mainly showcase his wonderful new album "Secondhand Smoke" Opening "Shaky Bridges" with a Springsteenesque harmonica intro things got off to a great start, swiftly followed by "Greetings From Niagara Falls", passionately delivered with at least one member of the audience lighting up their phone for the line "Shine a light for me". With the stage largely dominated by a huge piano Sean observed that he could not "pass up the opportunity to play a beautiful piano" and performed a truly beautiful "Wrong Side Of Town" the closing track of his latest opus, a ballad full of lovely lyrical observations that let us know exactly where he was with the "tennis shoes on telephone wires". One of the few glimpses of his back catalogue took us back to the album "Midland" for "Save Our Soul" as bluesy as it gets with Sean throwing in occasional Prince style high pitched vocals. The title track "Secondhand Smoke" followed before the set closed with a trip back to the "Sean McConnell" album for "Best We've Ever Been" with the final verse and chorus delivered off mic and unplugged - hopefully he'll be back later in the year for more shows.
Ashley Monroe also decided to play solo tonight, taking to the stage in a short red outfit and thigh high boots with "Love Me Tender" written in sequins on them. A little difficulty with a faulty guitar cable could have made for an awkward start but if anything it relaxed both crowd and artist and was soon forgotten with a storming version of "Hands On You" so absorbing that you did not miss the additional instrumentation of the record. By the time she had finished the second song "Hard On a Heart" she soon remembered just how revered she is in the UK - "Oh boy I love it here!".
For a lot of the time as she plays Ashley has her eyes closed as if completely in the zone and as the set continued she took to doing a delightful little curtsy to acknowledge the reaction she was receiving.The opening run of songs from the "Sparrow" album continued with "Mother's Daughter" delivering some "home truths".
A truly stunning "La Vie En Rose" temporarily transported us to Paris before segueing into "Like a Rose" which was the cue for the community singing to spring into action. The crowd favourites kept on coming "2 Weeks Late" and "Dixie" completed a run of songs from the "Like A Rose" album. Ashley as ever was great company and her explanation about how "She Wakes Me Up" came into being was hilarious, one of the most upbeat bits of pop from the night with a chorus to die for.
There was a return to the stage for Sean McConnell for an an unexpected cover in the shape of the Cranberries "Linger", which worked really well despite Sean clearly needing to refer to a crib sheet by his mic stand. It took a while for Ashley to move to the piano but when she did it was to deliver one of the stand out moments of the evening with the emotional "Orphan",
The evening was to fly by at breakneck speed and it seemed that only minutes after coming on stage she was closing out the main set with "Weed's Instead Of Roses". The encore of "The Blade" saw an audience member just blurt out "Beautiful" as it completed and he was not wrong! The final song of the night saw us go to Gram Parson's catalogue for "Hickory Wind". It may not have been able to quite capture the giddy heights of the 2017 performance but this was still an excellent show and we can only hope the wait for her return is not so long next time and that she is able to perform "Sparrow" with a full band at some point.