Little Big Town’s ‘Tornado’ blows full force at 9:30 Club


Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington. (Kyle Gustafson/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
February 15, 2013

Little Big Town probably didn’t expect that the phrase “Tornado” — the name of its recent top-selling album, current headlining tour and rising single — would so accurately describe the band’s trajectory over the past several months, but it’s a fitting piece of luck. Members of the country quartet, which performed a sold-out show at the 9:30 Club on Valentine’s Day, are in the middle of a blustering whirlwind of success like they’ve never experienced during 14 years of ups and downs in Nashville.

And they just keep picking up speed.

“I have to brag a little bit — we just won a Grammy!” squealed vocalist Kimberly Schlapman early in the concert, apropos of nothing. The foursome picked up its first trophy from the Recording Academy last weekend, winning best country duo/group performance over the likes of Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars.

Little Big Town won the prize for the irresistibly catchy “Pontoon,” a swampy, groovy single about a lazy day on the river, that stormed onto radio and up the charts last summer. The song was a sonic departure for the group, which usually features tightly-controlled harmonies, and became its first No. 1 single, breathing new life into the band.

While the new tunes may be looser, Thursday’s 90-minute concert was the opposite, with no room for spontaneity and little time for small talk. The band (Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and married couple Jimi Westbrook and Karen Fairchild) whipped through its material with expert precision. Band members traded off lead and background vocals, sharply transitioning from one song to the next. With a plethora of instruments, plus wind and fog machines, the show ran like clockwork.

The band’s gorgeous four-part harmonies were captivating, but it all seemed a bit stiff — even a lighthearted medley of countrified, banjo-fied covers of songs from Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Lady Gaga and fun.

Although Little Big Town proved this is definitively the “Tornado” era, playing almost every song from the new album, the band made sure to revisit its roots. This included a collection of hits from the mid-2000s, such as “A Little More You,” “Bring It on Home” and “Good as Gone.” Not unexpectedly, the audience exploded during the opening notes to closing tune “Boondocks,” the small-town-pride anthem that first made the group famous in 2005.

The evening served as a rare occasion to see Little Big Town’s big sound fill a small space, as the band generally spends a good portion of the year opening for other artists in larger venues. Sure enough, the group will swing back around to the area with Keith Urban at Baltimore’s First Mariner Arena in August, as the career cyclone keeps spinning.

Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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