Review and photos by Peter Coates
Ashley McBryde is on her first trip Down Under, appearing at CMC Rocks this weekend, and her band kicked off with a solid blues rock riff and the lady herself wandered out guitar, slung low and kicked into the opening song Livin’ Next to Leroy.
The band is just the right side of sleazy country rock, and guitarist Matt Helmkamp rips into the first solo as the rest of them crunch out the riffs, and the drums of Quinn Hill just boom through the Palais. Then a bit of a love song shows off Ashley’s sensational voice with American Scandal, a ballad about Kennedy & Monroe.
A switch to acoustic for a solo ballad of Fat and Famous Girl Goin’ Nowhere, which highlights the self-deprecating sense of humour that comes through her persona. Then a wicked piece of slide guitar to open up some beautiful harmonies for Rattlesnake Preacher which is a rollicking piece of swamp rock blues that lets the band really get loose.
Another softer ballad in Home Sweet Highway is then followed by A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega in which her voice is just astonishingly clear and powerful. Ashley gives a lovely intro to the rest of the band, before tearing into Tired of Being Happy which cruises along a smooth country groove until it blasts into a heavy blues jam to finish the set.
Luke’s band meanders onto the stage under the intro tape of the truck engine and radio station scrolling through the dial channel surfing, which nicely includes a clip of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, and the band winds up until the man himself, Luke Combs appears to a roar. He was one of the standouts of CMC Rocks in 2018, and after a stellar year in the USA, nominated for a Grammy, and having the album go double-platinum, the Chugg team have brought him back to headline Friday night at CMC Rocks 2019.
The bands churns out the excellent Honky Tonk Highway, before rumbling into Out There and When It Rains It Pours, before Luke opens up with the first of many story-telling interludes which seem to show he has matured and become much more interactive with the audiences in his big 2018 year – he has developed into a real country balladeer, and comes over so naturally onstage.
Must’ve Never Met You is met with a roar, and then we get a new song from the forthcoming record, in Reasons, a mellow number, before the Palais lights up with Beautiful Crazy which had the whole crowd singing every word. Careful what you Wish For included Luke signing a poster for a lady in the front row mid song, and the super slick and tight 6 piece band absolutely tore into the latter half of the song.
We get a subtle banjo intro from the back while Luke opens up about his move to Nashville 4 years ago, when he got invited to perform 3 songs for the A&R folks…..after which they told him he’d do OK but would have to write some better songs! All three of these songs have made it to Number One, so maybe he was onto something! One of these was the awesome Can I Get An Outlaw which really builds up with a couple of ripping guitar solos from both the boys.
Luke takes the spotlight solo with his acoustic and delivers Dear Today, another new song in the troubador storytelling style, harking back to where he started out playing small bars close to home in West Virginia. The start of This One’s For You was also solo, with 2000 singers helping out! The band comes back for the last chorus to round out the song.
The band kicks off the rip snorting country rock of Hank Jr’s All My Rowdy Friends which Luke uses as a vehicle to provide intros and cameos for all of the band members, including Rob “Rowdy” Williford leading a version of Rock My World (Little Country Girl), and then the rhythm guitarist gives us a haunting snippet of The Eagles Desperado backed only by the piano. This band is a talented bunch!
We are on the home straight now and Luke is really hitting his straps, with the good old southern country blues of Beer Can which rolls right into Don’t Tempt Me featuring the lap steel guitar. More stories about Texas lead us to Houston We Got a Problem, which Luke describes as being a love letter to Texas as well as to new fiancée Nicole.
Then we have another of those three audition songs, and another No 1 in the big hit of One Number Away, before Luke describes his desire to write a really good drinking song in the style of Brooks & Dunn, and cracks into 54321 Too Many, which is a toe-tapping boot-scooting party song including shotgunning a beer!
Then Luke introduces the song that changed it all for him, with Hurricane, that drew shrieks and a huge roar from the crowd who proceeded to outsing Luke and the band, before the set closed with Beer Never Broke My Heart, which is a new stomping country anthem for driving, drinking and dancing to!
In the interlude, one of the crowd headed to the stage, took off his cowboy boot, and the roadie poured in a beer so he could do a “Shoey” to the cheers of the crowd, and a nod from the returning band members, who gave the Palais crowd She Got The Best Of Me as the encore.
The crowds at CMC Rocks this weekend (14-17 March 2019), and The Enmore in Sydney on Tuesday and Wednesday night next week are in for a treat!