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Lady A veers off track

First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, Pa., June 2, 2012

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

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When did Lady A become a rock band? The trio best known for its mesmerizing harmonies and mellow ballads put on a glitzy 80-minute high decibel clinic featuring blistering guitar and seat rattling drum work.

The three make an odd first impression. The combination of scarecrow thin Charles Kelley, grunge/punker Dave Haywood and prom queen beauty Hillary Scott seems contradictory on paper, but their chemistry and charm are palpable from the first note.

After opening with a full throttle version of We Owned the Night, they scorched through most of the set, slowing down only briefly for the ballads Dancin' Away With My Heart, Just a Kiss and American Honey.

The highlight was a high octane version of Wanted You More, where Kelley's power and Scott's velvety texture complemented one another perfectly. In addition to their vocal synergy, Haywood shined throughout as a skilled multi-instrumentalist. Whether joining in on guitar during the disturbingly frantic full strobe light jam during Love Don't Live Here Anymore or playing soft piano on the signature Need You Now, he was equally comfortable.

Disappointingly, covers of Stones, Doobies and Allman Bros. songs ate up a large chunk of the latter portion of the 17-song set.

Opener Thompson Square offered up its usual array of whimsical pop musings, complete with inflatable lip balloons for Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?

Darius Rucker was allotted about 30 minutes and showed that you can take the boy out of Hootie and the Blowfish, but you can't take Hootie out of the boy. His desire to be known as "Darius Rucker, the country singer," is a stretch. It is nearly impossible to view him as anything but the frontman of his iconic '90s band since his newer material is so similar. The meat of his set consisted of formulaic hits from his solo albums. There were a few token Hootie tunes, but the only song with any country feel was the cover of Family Tradition.

Lady A's core strength is its heartfelt ballads. The hard rocking show seemed overly polished and slightly out of character. It did not conceal the fact that the band's best songs are slower tempo numbers that are equally well suited for both the adult contemporary and pop formats. Coupled with Thompson Square's bubble gum hits and Rucker's material being nearly indistinguishable from his former band, Lady A's first headlining tour noticeably veers off the country tracks.