“What’s an opening night without forgetting some lyrics?” joked Maddie Marlow after a brief lyrical flub halfway through Maddie & Tae’s show Wednesday night at New York City’s Highline Ballroom. It was, indeed, the opening night of the upstart country duo’s first-ever headlining tour following the release of their debut album, Start Here, less than two months ago. A half-forgotten lyric and brief guitar sound problem aside, Marlow and Tae Dye ran through an exuberant, compact 18-song, nearly 70-minute set like a pair of seasoned headliners.
Backed by a four-piece band, the duo performed all 11 songs on Start Here, along with a healthy smattering of covers, from Dolly Parton to Justin Timberlake to the Dixie Chicks — as well as a few unreleased Dye/Marlow co-writes that included “Boomerang,” the lead track on Jana Kramer’s forthcoming album. The two singers played guitar for most all of their set, only abandoning their instruments to work the crowd during the various cover-song portions of the evening. From the soaring pop-rock of opener “Right Here Right Now” to the mid-set hoedown “Shut Up and Fish,” all the way to the intimate, acoustic encore of “When the Storm Blows Through,” Dye and Marlow injected the finest Start Here material with a fresh sense of energy and conviction on the tour’s inaugural show.
Marlow, in particular, seemed taken aback by the group’s reception from the New York crowd, many of whom seemed to know every word of every song. At one point, she exclaimed, “I see y’all singing and this is the coolest freaking thing in the world!” Later, she gushed, “I can’t believe all you guys are here for us tonight.”
Maddie & Tae’s show featured an expertly constructed set, including several seamless transitions from crowd-pleasing covers like Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” into Start Here originals, like the wise-beyond-their-years “Downside of Growing Up.” “We have a hand in every aspect of our career,” Marlow told Rolling Stone in August. “For the live show, we put together our own sets and figure out what songs we want to cover.”
By the time Maddie & Tae arrived at the main-set closing “Girl in a Country Song” — a song so ubiquitous and left-of-center when it hit Number One last year that some feared it may condemn the group to one-hit-wonder status — the tune felt almost like an afterthought. Indeed, the night’s biggest highlight, the moment that set the most iPhones to “record,” came much earlier, when the group performed their follow-up single “Fly.” The aspirational ballad concluded with a feel-good sing-along when Marlow and Dye handed over the song’s final chorus to the crowd.
“We’ve come this far,” Marlow and Dye sang during “Fly,” knowing full well that this is just the beginning.