Who says you can’t go home? Atlanta’s own country music duo Sugarland did just that Saturday night before a nearly sold out crowd at Philips Arena.
For a little under an hour and a half, Jennifer Nettles of Atlanta and Kristian Bush of Decatur delivered a crowd-pleasing show that mingled tunes from 2010’s “Incredible Machine” (“All We Are,” “Stuck Like Glue,” “Settlin In”) with older material such as “Baby Girl” and “Something More,” which garnered the band its first Grammy nomination for best new artist in 2006.
Nettles and Bush are a joy to watch on stage, particularly when they’re doing animated back-and-forth gestures and playful dancing. Even with Nettle’s commanding presence and voice, Bush certainly gets to have his say with impressive performances on guitar during numbers that included “Incredible Machine.” Perhaps Nettles described it best, saying “Kristian will break it down like a guitar hero at the prom in 1989.”
There’s also something pretty special and heartwarming about watching a hometown band go from playing the personable Eddie’s Attic to the expansive Philips. Even with its bare, minimalist stage that looked as if it belonged more at Eddie’s than Philips, there was no doubt that this band was now in the big time.
“This is so much fun. We’re excited to be in our hometown,” said Nettles. “I’ve seen plenty of good shows here, so to be playing here is truly a dream come true,” Nettles then became all giddy reading aloud the signs and posters from fans standing near the stage. “Don’t mind us, it’s a freaking show for us, too.”
Perhaps that helps explain the random men running across the stage during “Every Girl Like Me” or the gents who came on stage dressed as Cee Lo Green, Britney Spears, Dolly Parton and Beyonce during the “Everyday America” remix that included samples of “Forget You,” Hit Me Baby, One More Time,” “9 to 5,” and “Bootylicious.” Or maybe it even explains the nearly naked Darth Vadar on stage briefly during “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” Appropriately, it was during that song that Nettles introduced members of the duo’s all-Georgia band, hailing from towns such as Swainsboro, Cochran and Cairo, in addition to metro Atlanta.
Saturday night’s show also had its share of tender moments. During the performance of “Little Miss,” hundreds of fans held signs reading “It’ll be alright again, I’m okay,” while others held signs with the words “Sometimes you gotta lose ’til you win.” Nettles said it was a tribute to the fans who died or were injured when stands collapsed before a Sugarland performance at the Indiana State Fair two months ago.
A few songs later, Nettles asked the audience if they liked surprises. She and Bush then proceeded to sign an acoustic guitar, teasing fans who screamed and waved their arms for the chance to take possession of it. The teasing continued as Bush walked through the crowd on the floor, made his way up to the first section and gently placed the instrument in the arms of a small boy. And finally during the encore of “Stand Up,” another young child was handed a large white flag with the word Love (which included a peace sign). With the help of a couple of adults, the child was escorted down the arena floor as the band and crowd sang “Won’t you stand up and use your voice?”
The band ended the night with “C’mon Eileen,” which featured Sara Bareilles, the tour’s splendid and engaging opening act.