The Kelley brothers wrap up The Driver Tour, which covered the club circuit in a total of 24 cities, on Friday, May 6th, . Having seen the tour when Charles Kelley and his brother Josh performed at the House of Blues in Chicago, I can tell you first hand that this was a tour you did not want to miss. This show was the epitome of what a club show is supposed to be. It was raw, intimate, vulnerable, at times impromptu, and more importantly, genuine in a way only real music fans can appreciate. It was everything true music is meant to be, and nothing less. Between the infinite talent that was showcased by the brothers and the fan interaction that took place, this wasn’t just another concert. This was the kind of performance that feeds the soul.
Before Josh Kelley, took the stage, the Lady A singer took the time to come out and introduce his older brother to the audience, something he hadn’t been able to do up to that point. Josh opened the show with just a stool, a microphone, and an acoustic guitar. That’s all the singer-songwriter needed to not only satisfy, but captivate the fans waiting patiently to see Charles perform. The 36 year old charmed the pants off the House of Blues with his quirky personality, deep southern accent, and impressive beat box skills, leaving fans energized and salivating for the main act. Josh performed his first pop rock radio single, “Amazing,” as well as “Georgia Clay” off his country album, and a couple of new songs from his now recently released album, which included a song inspired by a fight with his wife (“It’s Your Move”), as well as a song he wrote for his second daughter (“Cowboy Love Song”). Watching him perform, it was clear Josh Kelley was quickly winning over the hearts of Chicago’s music lovers. Josh also performed an incredibly lulling version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” that had the crowd in such an awe, the concert hall fell to an almost eerie level of silence. There’s no doubt the older brother was the perfect choice to open this show.
An almost deafening level of screams and whistles filled the air when the younger Kelley brother finally took the stage. Opening with the first track off his debut solo album, “Your Love,” the long limbed blonde singer kept the attention of his audience from the second he opened his mouth to sing his very first note. If you weren’t impressed with Charles Kelley before The Driver tour, you definitely would have been after seeing him put on what can easily be considered one of the best live shows ever performed. If there was any doubt before about the kind of performer Charles Kelley is, it should be erased now. The Georgia native’s stage presence is best described as a work of art, and his voice is pure and simple sultry southern perfection. He effortlessly took the audience on a journey through most of The Driver album, while also including a few Lady Antebellum songs, one of them being the group’s first number one single, “I Run to You.” A touching moment during the set was listening to Charles tell the story behind him covering Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents” with Stevie Nicks on The Driver album. He wanted to pay tribute to his father who was a hard-working southern man and someone Kelley clearly admires profoundly. Charles and Stevie also recorded the song in the original studio that Tom Petty recorded his version in, an experience Charles has described in his interview with Forbes Magazine as “eerie.”
Kelley performed every song with ease and excellence, never missing a beat through the entire show. His interaction with his fans was as up close and personal as anyone could get, even walking out onto the floor multiple times throughout the night hugging, dancing with, and slapping hands with as many people as possible. From the way he moved in perfect rhythm across the stage to the way he crooned every song in impeccable harmony, Charles Kelley wowed the crowd to a level many musicians only hope to do one day. Later in the show, Charles brought out his big brother to help him cover Tom Petty’s popular hit, “Won’t Back Down,” which the crowd happily sang along to as loud as their voices would allow them to. Closing out the show with a medley of Lady A’s smash “Need You Now” and John Waite’s “Missing You,” as well as The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin,” Charles and Josh Kelley left a lasting impression on the crowd at House of Blues that night. The brothers each performed with such a unique artistry and talent that other musicians should really take notes from them.
If you’re not familiar with the singer’s solo album The Driver do yourself a favor and give it a listen. For fans of Lady Antebellum, unless you’re an open-minded music fan, you might have some trouble enjoying the album. If you’re like myself, though, and are more diverse in your musical tastes, and can appreciate true musicianship and songwriting, then there’s no reason not to like the album. The Lady A singer’s first solo effort is smooth and flawless in its delivery, while being honest and deep-seated in its lyrics. Songs like “Dancing Around It” and “Lonely Girl” showcase the album’s mid-tempo, funky hip R&B element, while ballads like “Leaving Nashville,” and “I Wish You Were Here” blanket the album with a softer and more somber tone. Kelley’s vocals are truly on display on this album, as are his storytelling skills, particularly on songs like “The Driver” and “Leaving Nashville,” which describe the relationship between the artist and the people who support them every night on the road, and tackle the struggle of being a songwriter in an industry that just wants the next big hit. The album as a whole leaves the listener feeling lively, dreamy and sympathetic all in nine seamlessly sung, well put together tracks.
While some fans and critics may not care for Kelley’s solo effort or understand his need to branch out alone and create music that means more to him than just filling his bank account, I believe there are those who will accept The Driver album and tour for what it is meant to be – music that tells a story, warms the soul, and tugs at the heartstrings in a way that stays with its listeners so much they feel it in their bones. Many think music is just meant for background music, something to party and dance to. And while it obviously is, it’s also about expressing emotion and saying what often can’t easily be put into words. It’s about feeling and believing in something so deeply that you forget to come up for air to breathe because it consumes you in the best way possible. Charles Kelley demonstrates this without a glitch on The Driver album, and with his brother Josh, together delivered a priceless and memorable experience that music fans yearn for because “next to love, music is the best solution to any problem. Music feeds the heart with what it needs in the moment.”