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It was a miracle the seams held on Jennifer Nettles’ skin-tight leggings.
The charismatic lead singer of Sugarland crouched and jumped in her teal boots as if she just got out of dance lessons with Steven Tyler. All the while, her thick Georgia twang penetrated the air like a train whistle.
Unlike most country queens who practically rivet their designer heels to the stage, Nettles’ floor show takes cues from rock ‘n’ roll. Why should a girl stand still when she can snake her arms in the air, make weird and wonderful faces, and shake what her mama gave her.
Unfortunately, Nettles’ charisma couldn’t keep the Monday night concert in Sullivan Arena from feeling like a one-note.
About half of the platinum duo’s set list was songs about small town kids dreaming big. Some of the songs are poignant, well-told narratives (“Everyday America” and “Baby Girl,” for example) and others just felt like copies made on a machine low on toner (“Fly Away,” for starters).
Dreams are great. Optimism, terrific. Nothing better. But an entire night filled with the same characters pursuing the same dreams, often in the same key? It got as tired as Kenny Rogers' plastic surgeon.
It didn’t help that Nettles introduced each song with insipid advice, which she imparted earnestly as if she were channeling the Dalai Lama: “A lot of time when it seems like one door is closing, it’s just another one opening up…This song is about courage, about standing up when you’ve been knocked down.”
That’s it: No more Oprah for her.
Sugarland did its best when it jumped off the beaten-to-death lyrical path. Chick party anthem “Down In Mississippi (Up To No Good)” was fiery, clever and finally got the audience’s butts out of their seats three songs before the lights went up.
A cut off Sugarland’s upcoming November album, the ballad “One Blue Sky,” came across as a topical, evocative lament about a town in the aftermath of a flood. The soulful tone of Nettles’ voice when she sang “Everything that we love is floating away” translated into a goosebump moment.
Formerly a trio, Sugarland’s guitarist Kristen Hall left the group in January. Without seeing the group live as both a trio and a duo, it’s impossible to speculate how her absence has affected the group’s stage dynamic.
It is safe to say that as a duo, Nettles is Cher and Kristian Bush is Sonny. With his raspy voice, he was an apt substitute for Jon Bon Jovi on the rocker’s No. 1 duet with Nettles, “Who Says You Can't Go Home.” But Bush didn’t speak until the middle of the show, and his contributions on rhythm guitar and mandolin were barely audible over the five-member back-up band. He might as well have been playing a dog whistle. Give the guy some solos, for chrissakes.
It’s almost like Sugarland’s management told Bush to just get out of Nettles’ way. Which is probably a good idea, lest she accidentally hip-check him right over the lip of the stage.
Because of her syrupy Southern voice and captivating presence, some critics have dubbed Nettles as the next Dolly Parton. The potential is there, but it can’t happen unless Nettles lets go of the songwriting formulas that have made Sugarland popular, and seeks out the ground-breaking material that turns lovable artists into genuine legends.
1.Medley: American Girl/Something More
8.The Way It Is (Bruce Hornsby cover)
9.Stand Back Up
13.Speed Of Life
14.One Blue Sky
15.Just Might (Make Me Believe)
16.Down In Mississippi (Up To No Good)
17.Who Says You Can't Go Home