It’s always welcome – and exceedingly rare – when a band makes an extra effort to connect with fans.
Sugarland pulled a combo deal of remembering its Atlanta roots and promoting the just-released “The Incredible Machine” Wednesday at the Fox Theatre at an all-comped show open to fan club members/media/corporate sponsor employees and those who snagged some last-minute tix from an afternoon Facebook announcement.
The colorful serenity of the Fox contrasted well with Sugarland’s stage full of grinding wheels and chugging steam – sort of if you criss-crossed the sets of “Oliver Twist” with “Alice in Wonderland.”
The purpose of the show was for Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush and their polished five-piece band to play “Machine” in its entirety, in order – something that, Nettles said from the stage, the band had never done before.
“There’s a lot of history being created here,” she said, as the nearly-full audience whooped with adoration.
Fresh from wrapping a six-month U.S. tour, Nettles and Co. were, unsurprisingly, taut and seemingly energized by the hometown crowd.
The show was also being recorded for an upcoming project and woe the digital camera-wielding fans who tried to snap some shots from the harmless vantage point of the balcony (yeah, yeah, we know, the flashes are distracting). Never have ushers at a concert been so prompt to do anything as they were to scold these folks.
But, camera issues aside, Wednesday’s special show demonstrated why Sugarland is giving country radio programmers apoplexy with this new album.
Songs such as the title track – which, for better or worse sounds like a forgotten Bon Jovi cut – and “All We Are” ring with an anthemic pop sensibility. They’re richly layered with booming choruses tailor made for live recreations, but don’t expect to hear them played on country radio, even if Nettles’ voice coats them with her overstated twang.
When the band bounded into “Stuck Like Glue,” perhaps the most polarizing song on the record with its exceptional nasalness tucked into a catchy chorus that then veers into a few reggae verses, the crowd hooted appreciatively.
And when Nettles switched vocal gears to a deeper tone for “Tonight,” a thundering power ballad that found her admirably holding the long notes while bathed in an amber light, it was pretty clear that Sugarland has no intentions of turning back.
Not that the band needs to worry. “The Incredible Machine” is almost certain to bow at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart next week given its deep discounts at digital and traditional retailers and with that kind of momentum, why wouldn’t Nettles and Bush continue to blur the boundaries?