Jennifer Nettles shows her pipes

Star Tribuen photo by Marlin Levison


Sure, I’m sweet on Sugarland. More specifically Jennifer Nettles. She really turns it on in concert, as I explained in my review.

Sugarland’s material isn’t as strong as their — well, her — performance. But many of the tunes from the new album "Incredible Machine" —the duo did seven of the disc’s 11 numbers — sounded more dynamic, more lively and better in concert than on disc (save for the industrial-tinged title cut, with its elusive message).

Even though Sugarland is labeled as country, the duo and their five backup musicians really sounded like a pop band with country sensibilities (small-town values, simple truths and Nettles’ unmistakable Georgia twang). "All We Are" sounded like U2-influenced arena rock. "Every Girl Like Me" came across like Jason Mraz reggae/pop. "Find the Beat Again" revisited early-’80s new-wave. "Stand Up" felt like a rousing, flag-waving anthem, U2-meets-Bob Marley in a southern gospel church.

Were they great songs? No, but they were great performances. Nettles transcended her material — both the new stuff and the old. And she showed an uncanny ability to get fun and frivolous (with the medley of "Everyday America" mixed in with several hits by others) and instantly shift into a heart-tugging ballad (her classic "Stay," easily the best piece in Sugarland’s repertoire). She has become an unstoppable live performer.

Both opening acts became part of Sugarland’s 90-minute show. Matt Nathanson came out to sing his "Run," which he’d recorded with Sugarland for his forthcoming album. It was forgettable. By contrast, Little Big Town adding gospel harmonies on Madonna’s "Like a Prayer" and vocal force on Sugarland’s "Stand Up" was a smart strategy.

As for their own sets, the underwhelming Nathanson scored with his own modest pop hit "Come On Get Higher" and a sure-fure cover of Journey’s "Don’t Stop Believin’." And Little Big Town was a perfect opener, invigorating with harmonies that evoked gospel ("Little White Church"), the Eagles ("Bring It on Home") and Fleetwood Mac ("Bones") and surprising with a refreshing bluegrass treatment of Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way."


Here is Sugarland’s set list:

All We Are/ Stuck Like Glue/ It Happens/ Settlin’/ Tonight/ All I Want To Do/ Incredible Machine/ Every Girl Like Me/ Little Miss/ Run (sung by opening act Matt Nathanson, with Sugarland)/ Baby Girl/ Everyday America w/ snippets from Forget You (Cee Lo Green), Hit Me Baby One More Time (Britney Spears), 9 to 5 (Dolly Parton), Bootylicious (Destiny’s Child)/ Stay/ Find the Beat Again w snippet from Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)/ Who Says You Can’t Go Home (with Kristian Bush singing the Jon Bon Jovi parts) / Something More ENCORE Stand Up (with Little Big Town)/ Like a Prayer (Madonna, with Little Big Town)

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