Live Review: MORGAN WALLEN + HARDY + ERNEST + BAILEY ZIMMERMAN at Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney – 21st March 2023

Review by Peter Coates –

BAILEY ZIMMERMAN opened up the show with a three-song acoustic set that was markedly different from his powerful performance at CMC Rocks, with two of his band accompanying on guitars he trotted out a couple of his better known songs, which due to traffic I missed, and then gave us an impressive performance of Rock And A Hard Place which came across really well in this stripped-back format.  He is a bit of a rough diamond in performance, but his association with the likes of HARDY and Morgan Wallen will not hurt his profile at all, and the more experience he gets of performing, the better he will get!

ERNEST was a surprise at CMC Rocks, and the band wandered onto the massive stage with This Fire to open with his full band, very much in west coast country rock mode, with the drummer giving the kit a solid punch.  ERNEST ventured to the front of the runway to sing Tennessee Queen direct to the ladies.  There is a bit of Jon Pardi and Midland here, without their showmanship, and a lot of the old-school Eagles and Allman Brothers.  Miss that Girl is another lilting ballad before taking off his shirt to show off a trucking singlet.  The band wound up the volume with pedal steel guitar and drums kicking the beat along for Hill with some frenetic lead guitar to finish it off.  Feet Wanna Run gives us a big sky vibe, top down cruising in no hurry at all.   ERNEST is a real songwriter, and his gold chain from Jellyroll when Son of a Sinner made No 1 – sees him showing off a pretty strong clear voice.  The band heads out to rock out on the stage front for Burn Out, and he drags a cardboard cut out from side of stage of Morgan Wallen for a “duet” of Flower Shops to end the set, with the band providing a big loud extended ending after ERNEST has left the stage.

HARDY – the stage goes dark and the intro tape of Koe Wetzel’s Creeps sets the scene for some lighting effects, before the band and HARDY power onto the stage with the feeling that some of the precious country girls might get a bit messed up in the pit when they kick off, and SOLD OUT hits you like a piledriver with the power of the backing track bass, the solid drums and the twin rock guitars.   This ain’t no country show, but is sure is a blast!  Then the misleading intro to JACK which builds up in intensity through bass and drums to the solo section and then on to the climax.  “Hey Sydney, it’s Tuesday night……I came here to get f$$ked up tonight!”  BOOTS saw a slightly raspy voice which may have been from over-exertion at CMC Rocks – but the band absolute crushed the offbeat middle eight. Then into the connected new song TRUCK BED with the redneck rapping over the deep bass line.

The big hit single ONE BEER from the first HIXTAPE collection, with Devin Dawson and Lauren Elena, got the country pop folk back on side and a sense of normality resumed briefly.  wait in the truck is an important song for HARDY, and was delivered with passion with no Lainey Wilson to help out live, so they had her on tape for her sections which really worked well.  But HARDY really gave it everything vocally, and the band ramped it up too.  GIVE HEAVEN SOME HELL was written post their nasty tour bus accident, and this got the crowd singing along again.  REDNECKER was much more upbeat in typical country style, and got the guitarist out front for the solo.  The moment of the show may have been in the rendition of Gods Country, written by HARDY and made famous by Blake Shelton, and is such an intense and high quality song, which HARDY notes can be applied to Aussies and their view of Australia just as well as to the USA.  This track sees the whole crowd get into it with massed backing vocals and with the outro played solo on guitar by the man himself.  This leads right into the mockingbird & THE CROW being the title track of the new album and very much telling the brief story of his career to date. The band comes back in for THE CROW half of the track which reverts to solid heavy southern rock and a pretty brutal metal ending.  PHEW!

MORGAN WALLEN is the biggest thing in country music right now, and perhaps in the entire music industry, with the release of his new triple album One Thing At A Time and all 36 tracks finding their way into the Billboard Top 100, and at least 5 into the Top 10!  After his suspension by Universal Music for a well-publicised “mis-speaking” incident, and a spell in rehab, Morgan has come out apparently squeaky clean and hugely sellable, and has been able to command massive performances, and has brought a monster stage set to Australia / NZ for CMC Rocks and the 5 arena shows in Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne, which sees him kicking off the new World Tour Down Under.

Up Down opened the set, slightly rocked up by the band, and featuring lots of pyrotechnics and fire onstage, before I Wrote the Book sees him on his knees front of stage causing a lot of high pitched shrieking.  Morgan gave us a humble and grateful intro before the new album title track – One Thing at a Time – which is modern pop country with the catchiest chorus.  He seems to be an utterly personable young man, and the current standing has allowed him to bring this mammoth show to Australia. 

Everything I Love lets the band show off just a little, but not too much to detract from the boss and You Proof featured some understated lead guitar work from the two lead players.  Ain’t That Some includes some country boy rapping that led to a pair of red knickers being handed over!  Somebody’s Problem was apparently written with HARDY after an encounter with a pretty blonde in car – “Who’s That?” says Morgan……after a pause, HARDY replies, that’s “Somebody’s Problem”.

Chasin’ You sees Morgan playing acoustic guitar along with the band, before we get a selection of the new songs and hits, some in a medley, including Everything I Love, Dangerous / 7 Summers / Silverado for Sale / Still Goin Down and Sand In My Boots.

The anticipation when ERNEST came onstage to repeat the duet of Flower Shops for real had the crowd in raptures, and the intensity went up a notch when HARDY replaced ERNEST for the HIXTAPE track He Went To Jared which allowed the band to crank it up! 

From there it was Devil Don’t Know, Thought You Should Know, Whiskey Friends and This Bar, and on to Wasted on You, More Than My Hometown and The Way I Talk to close the epic set. 

There was no chance of him not doing an encore, and Heartless, Last Night and the super catchy Whiskey Glasses from the early Morgan Wallen days gave the crowd a final dose of this new country superstar.

Big raps to Michael Chugg and the team at Frontier Touring for booking this guy 12 months ago and getting the timing absolutely right to maximise the impact of his appearance at CMC Rocks, and providing the sideshows to satisfy the clear demand for more Morgan from Australia and NZ.

Peter Coates

Photos from CMC Rocks – ©Inside Edge Photography