With Little Big Town and Randy Montana
Cruzan Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach
Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010
Sugarland's Incredible Machine tour came to a halt in West Palm Beach's Cruzan Amphitheatre on Saturday, but before it did, the final show delivered on its promise of soaring harmonies and powerful lead vocals supplied by some of the most distinctive voices in contemporary country music.
Opening act Little Big Town practically blasted concertgoers out of their seats with its tight four-part harmonies and bluegrass- and rock-tinged repertoire. The group's ten-song set included recent hit "Little White Church," an uptempo ultimatum song that singer and songwriter Karen Fairchild described in a recent interview as "the redneck version of 'Single Ladies.'"
The quartet charged full steam ahead with songs like "Give Me a Little More You," "Bring It on Home," "Shut Up Train," and "Kiss Goodbye." Then suddenly, in the middle of their performance of "Runaway Train," someone dressed in a gorilla suit appeared on stage and started waving bananas and dancing with the band. A few moments later, the gorilla vanished backstage, and the band finished the song without further incident.
As we soon discovered, that was to be just one of several surprises and shenanigans of the evening, which had a bit of a last-day-of-school feel to it. Earlier, someone surprised the tour's other opening act, recording artist Randy Montana, by showing up with a giant photo of him as a child. The photo at one point ended up onstage with him, delivered personally by Sugarland's Kristian Bush.
Bush also had a hand in the biggest surprise of the night. About halfway through Sugarland's set, lead singer Jennifer Nettles paused to announce, "Somebody needs a new guitar!" The Grammy-winning duo then autographed one of their guitars, which Bush carried into the audience and handed to a delighted fan.
The guitar giveaway aside, Sugarland did its best to delight fans with its nearly two-hour performance. The audience's first sighting of the pair was of them in silhouette, cloaked behind a giant curtain as the opening chords of "Wide Open" played in the background. The song, which appears on the band's new album, The Incredible Machine, to be released Tuesday, was written for the 2010 winter Olympic Games.
Nettles' voice filled the amphitheater with the song's eerie, tribal-sounding chants, and suddenly the curtain fell to reveal a backdrop of a breathtakingly elaborate assemblage of gears and other machinery. The centerpiece of this enormous mechanical masterpiece was a round video screen that alternated between shots of the band and prepared video clips.
As Bush later told the audience, the incredible machine that gave the album its name actually refers to the human heart. But it also could refer to Nettles' awe-inspiring voice, which was an instrument she used with power and skill throughout the night.
Dressed in a black top, jeans, and high-heeled boots and sporting short blond curls, Nettles strutted her long legs across the stage with the confidence of a supermodel throughout the 18-song set. Her voice was sweet as honey on songs like the catchy "Stuck Like Glue" and tough as nails on the duo's signature song, "Stay," which inevitably turned into an audience sing-along.
Nettles' only major wardrobe change came during the song "Incredible Machine," when she emerged wearing a futuristic version of a hoopskirt over her jeans. Somehow the past-meets-future imagery worked well with the industrialized background of machine gears and parts.
And yes, there were more surprises and shenanigans in store. During the song "Everyday America," the band incorporated a few verses of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" and the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back." A few songs later, it threw in a cover of "Sweet Caroline."
Perhaps the wildest moment of the evening came during a performance of Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home," when a troupe of dancers invaded the stage dressed in wife beaters and Afro wigs with handkerchiefs tied around their heads. Switching gears to hip-hop mode, Nettles sang, "Run and tell that!" The would-be gangsters were actually a cultural reference to YouTube sensation Antoine Dodson and his now-famous bed intruder song. I'm not sure if most people in the audience got it, but I found it to be hilarious, especially since Dodson is from my hometown in Alabama. Who says you can't go home, indeed!
The final act of this free-for-all came at the end of Sugarland's three encores. The opening acts joined Sugarland onstage for the final song, a cover of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." With everyone onstage dancing and wearing colorful wigs, the performers sent the audience home feeling happy to be alive.
Better than: Most of this summer's country shows at the Cruzan. My friend who accompanied me declared Sugarland's staging to be the best she'd ever seen.
Personal bias: This was the last country show of the season at the Cruzan, but I believe Sugarland definitely ended it on a high note.
Random detail: Randy Montana's father-in-law is NASCAR's Kyle Petty.
By the way: The tour may be over, but those who didn't catch Sugarland can tune in to a live streamed concert from New York City at 9 p.m. on YouTube on Monday.
All I Want to Do
Stuck Like Glue
Find the Beat Again/Sweet Caroline
Who Says You Can't Go Home
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