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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sugarland soothes the soul

Published: October 21, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

For those who aren’t avid fans, Sugarland is a country band, comprised of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, with five number-one singles under their belt. While I’m aware that country isn’t everybody’s favorite genre like it is mine, I want to impress upon everybody that Sugarland is capable of drawing fantastically large crowds of various ages to almost every concert they give. I saw this in action when I went to a Sugarland and Sara Bareilles concert last Thursday night.

For those who are fans of Sara Bareilles (who is not a country artist), I will digress here to discuss her opening act. Nominated for three Grammys, I think Bareilles could be headlining her own show. As a Bareilles fan, however, I was disappointed in her performance. It seemed as though she played only a few songs without much of a reaction, even to hits like “Love Song.” Her stage personality grated on me; she acted overly bubbly, bordering on being annoyingly peppy.

But the largest problem that arose with her opening act was most likely not her fault. A common practice during concerts is to make the opening act less pristine than the main attraction. This is primarily due to the main act’s fear that the opener will outshine them if left to their own devices. This phenomenon has occurred before, an example being Bruce Springsteen fans booing a main act off the stage in order to encourage Springsteen to come back on and play the whole show. In terms of Bareilles’s act, her band actually sounded relatively horrendous. Her drummer was incredibly messy and her band often drowned out her lyrics. I was very disappointed by the sound quality; Bareilles deserves better.

As for Sugarland, I was impressed by how fluid the concert was. There seemed to be no lulls in the set; though they played slow songs, upbeat ones always followed. One of the most impressive moments occurred with the performance of the song “Stay,” a mournful song about a mistress scorned.Though I’ve seen Nettles sing it in the music video, on YouTube and live one other time, she still brings conviction to it again and again.

Despite Nettles’ odd resemblance to my aunt, who is not a stage presence, she is extremely comfortable on stage, even in debuting some dance moves I would only do alone in my dorm room. I loved her confidence almost as much as I admired her ability to hold extremely long notes.

Sugarland’s excellence probably stems from their wealth of experience as performers. Nettles and Bush play off each others’ facial reactions and stage movements like siblings, and other members of the band can predict their every move. Playing mostly off their album “The Incredible Machine,” they snuck in many of their other popular hits to pay homage to old fans. Definitely grateful to their fans, Bush even signed and gave away one of his guitars, holding it above his head while walking through the crowd before choosing the perfect fan to whom to give it.

Set-wise, nothing Sugarland had onstage was particularly striking. I have seen other shows in which technology, wires and many colors are used to enhance the experience of the show. For example, Carrie Underwood rides in a flying car during part of her act. Sugarland’s entire set, however, consisted of their band equipment and a backdrop with the emblem of their latest album. During the title song “The Incredible Machine,” aspects of the backdrop—gears on the photo of a heart—began to move. Aside from that, no flashy lights or swooping objects were needed: I did not mind the lack of set because Sugarland, with their music alone, can carry the show.

One thing about country concerts I have always enjoyed is the sense of community surrounding them. Most people were wearing cowboy hats and Sugarland t-shirts, and discussing their favorite Sugarland songs with other fans beforehand. Dancing in your seat is acceptable, as well as singing every word out loud. Though some may dislike the genre, Sugarland, along with many other country bands, have managed to bring together diverse groups of people.