The beer was flowing and the catchy country anthems were playing non-stop as Luke Combs made the O2 his personal honky-tonk bar for the evening.
The final date of the US superstar’s European tour was a triumph from start to finish with 20,000 fans – many wearing cowboy hats,and checked shirts – they sing with hoarse voices.
Hat-wearing, jeans-wearing, bearded singer-songwriter Luke, who has worked with Ed Sheeran, belted out his huge crossover hits and honest stories of working-class life in a rousing 20-song set.
Dressed from head to toe in black, the atmosphere was anything but party.
Combs strode purposefully around the stage, often holding a mug full of beer to ensure fans on both wings got a good view of their hero.
On the modern country anthems “Hurricane,” “Beautiful Crazy” and “The Kind of Love We Make,” Combs showcased a powerful vocal range while sweat poured down his face.
He transformed the venue into what felt like the biggest karaoke club in the world when he released his cover of Tracy Chapman’s classic ’90s hit Fast Car – one of his favorite songs of all time.
And while traveling with 1, 2 Many, he performed his favorite “shotgun” party trick, emptying a can of beer in a chaotic but effective manner.
The show also had a lot of emotional weight.
In a heartfelt moment, Luke spoke of missing his family – a wife and two young sons – at home, before emphasizing that it was an honor to share the room with a legion of fans who are getting away from their hard work separated the money they earnedto see him.
His efforts were duly recognized, with some fans crying and others exclaiming it was the “best gig we’ve ever been to.”
Combs has promised to return to the UK soon, and if he does, it’s hard to see how he’ll top that.
The main support that evening came from probably the best “hillbilly” band in the world right now, the exuberant 49 Winchester.
Frontman Isaac Gibson took the stage wearing Stetson sunglasses, a jazzy shirt, and a cream and gold fender slung over his shoulder. He was part rock ‘n’ roll preacher, part sheriff as he ran through a breathtaking setlist.
There were echoes of pre-plane tragedy Lynyrd Skynyrd as they performed “All I Need,” a tribute to the love of the good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Coming from childhood friends in a small town in Virginia, the band was incredibly tight and true masters of their craft.
This rhythmic connection was evident on the aptly titled track “Chemistry” as well as the closing track “Annabel” from the latest album “Fortune Favors The Bold”.
Isaac’s proud wife and his father, who drives them around the States selling merchandise at shows, watched from the stage, and the frontman regularly gave them a beaming smile, clearly enjoying every moment of the performance.
Just an hour before the band took the stage, I met with Isaac and found that he was incredibly humble and okay with the band’s continued growth; Last year, Rolling Stone named them the “hottest band of 2022.”
Sitting in a Silverstein top and sporting a auburn beard that would make ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons proud, Isaac described how the band had changed in its decades of existence.
“We just got bigger, bolder, louder and meaner,” he said. “It’s something that happened naturally. It’s not something we particularly set out to do. I write country songs. I’m a country guy from the middle of nowhere in West Virginia. I’ve always identified as a country band, even though it’s not top 40 country, it’s not that solid and it’s not traditional country, even if it has elements of both.
“We have always been a band that is difficult to define; is it Americana? Is it roots? Is it rock? Is it country? We love all types of music and I think that shows in the music we make.”
“We don’t run away from influences. We are able to be completely free with what we create. We make music that appeals to us and that makes us feel good when we play it together on stage.”
In an amusing turn of events, the band discovered that Luke was a big fan when they learned he had ordered a t-shirt from their website.
He then wore the shirt for a major magazine interview; a public declaration of love for the band.
It wasn’t long before they got the call to join Luke on the road, which they jumped at.
Explaining how the Combs tour has benefited them, he said: “It’s huge, especially here in Europe where we did the tour. We have a headlining show in Lafayette on Sunday that was so sold out.” [clicks fingers].
“Being able to put yourself in front of so many eyes and places you’ve never been before just has the opportunity to potentially attract thousands and thousands of new fans every night. “It’s definitely increased our exposure in the US, but even more so in Europe.” People can see the show, be there in real time and experience it. That’s the best way to discover a band anyway.”
As a result, 49 Winchesters have now reached heights they never thought possible from their humble small-town roots.
“Honestly, it’s pretty overwhelming,” Isaac said. “Ten years ago, when we started the band, we could never have imagined this.
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“Fast forward a decade and play in front of 20,000 people in 2002, it is the honor of a lifetime to be on a tour like this and to play venues of this magnitude and fame. For a bunch of hillbilly kids. “To do that is incredible.”
Based on evidence from last night, it won’t be long before the band themselves are headlining the venue.