Although North Carolina native Luke Combs released his first EP in 2014, he first came to many country fans’ attention with his debut single Hurricane. Originally released in 2015, the song built up steam and reached the top of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in May 2017. It paved the way for his hit debut album, This One’s For You, as well as two more chart-topping singles – When It Rains It Pours and One Number Away. After releasing a deluxe edition of the record in June and two performances at this year’s C2C Festival, this week Combs is back in the UK for his first headline tour, including two sold-out dates at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire.
Accompanied by his five-piece band, Combs walked on stage to huge cheers from the audience before throwing his drink over the front rows – a sign that it was about to be party time in London. He opened his set with fan favourite Beer Never Broke My Heart, a raucous rocky number which highlighted the gravel and belt in his voice, before performing a mash-up of his twangy, rollicking barroom tune Honky Tonk Highway and Brooks & Dunn’s classic Boot Scootin’ Boogie.
Over the next hour and a quarter, Combs kept the energy high with songs from across his career to date, including Beer Can, the classic rock-influenced Can I Get An Outlaw, and the summery singalong Don’t Tempt Me With A Good Time. Right from the off the crowd were singing along to every word, particularly on When It Rains It Pours, which got by far the biggest cheer of the night! Combs also peppered his set with the stories behind his songs as well as his journey in the music business, and could be seen frequently interacting with fans – including signing merchandise, snapping selfies and even handing one girl his drink after the upbeat, cheeky Sheriff You Want To! He came across as incredibly warm and personable and it’s clear why fans have warmed to him in such huge numbers.
However, for me some of the best moments came during the slower numbers. Must’ve Never Met You was an early highlight, with Combs hitting some huge notes, whilst his version of Ed Sheeran’s Dive gave him a chance to show his soulful side. Meanwhile, This One’s For You, which Combs performed solo with his acoustic guitar, was full of warmth and conviction as well as packing a punch vocally, and was something I’d have liked to see more of in the set. I also liked that he took the time to give his bandmates their moment in the spotlight on a medley of Take It Easy, Should’ve Been A Cowboy and Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.
After thanking the audience, Combs performed his current single She Got The Best Of Me. For me it’s one of the best songs he’s done so far – a raw, emotional power ballad with some really vivid imagery, and he gave it everything. He followed that with a rockier take on Hurricane, where he encouraged the crowd to sing along (not that they needed it!). As he hit the final note they got to their feet for a standing ovation and began chanting his name, demanding an encore – which they got in the form of the moving Beautiful Crazy, an ode to Combs’ girlfriend which showed off the rich tone to his voice, and the Southern rock sound of Let The Moonshine.
Overall Luke Combs delivered a fun and engaging performance which showed why he’s one of the rising stars on the US country scene. He kept the energy up throughout, came across as very warm and open on stage and showed off some seriously impressive vocal depth and power. Personally I would have liked to see a longer acoustic section as I felt he really shone there, but otherwise it was a well-honed and confident set that left me – and the rest of the crowd – on a high. He’s clearly destined for great things and I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s back on this side of the pond.
Set list: 1. Beer Never Broke My Heart 2. Honky Tonk Highway/Boot Scootin’ Boogie (Brooks & Dunn cover) 3. Must’ve Never Met You 4. Beer Can 5. One Number Away 6. Dive (Ed Sheeran cover) 7. Can I Get An Outlaw 8. Don’t Tempt Me With A Good Time 9. Back When 10. When It Rains It Pours 11. This One’s For You 12. Take It Easy (Eagles cover)/Should’ve Been A Cowboy (Toby Keith cover)/Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow (Alan Jackson cover) 13. Sheriff You Want To 14. She Got The Best Of Me 15. Hurricane 16. Beautiful Crazy 17. Let The Moonshine Performance date: 4th October 2018