June 23, 2012
First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
Tinley Park, IL USA
Review by Lisa Lipp
Photos by Ralf Lipp
You can always expect some sort of fireworks from Sugarland whenever they hit your town, whether it's in the sky or simply coming from the stage. With that said, it was quite apropos that the dynamic duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush kick off the start of summer with a raucous performance on the longest day of the year. The way Nettles bounced around stage, you would have never guessed she would be giving birth to her first child this coming November. Then again, when you dub your tour, In the Hand of the Fans, you're going to leave the entire evening open to surprises.
Let's face it. The past 12 months have been tough on Sugarland. If you're a fan of this group, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Like the superstars they are, Nettles and Bush have pushed forward, and this adoring crowd at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater gave them their full support.
Sugarland has always been on the outside of the country norm, and tonight's performance was indicative of that. The evening kicked off with Jennifer beating a solitary drum to introduce their rocking hit, "Wide Open", from their 2010 platinum smash, The Incredible Machine. Sporting a simple ensemble of a pink top with white pants and matching blazer with angel wings embossed on the back, the singer immediately got the crowd on its feet and into singing a few "oh ays". From that moment forward, it was game on. They followed that song with the acoustic sing-along, "Stuck Like Glue", sending many in the crowd into a dancing frenzy.
Posters galore were displayed throughout the crowd. They were significant because fans could request tunes they wanted to hear. One sign proclaimed the guy had missed his prom to be at the show. A rather amused Nettle's brought the "student" onstage only to find out his prom had been five years earlier. Without skipping a beat, she congratulated him on his late graduation. Several other signs had Nettles attention, but one particular one the singer had spotted earlier disappeared. An exasperated Jennifer proclaimed "this is what happens when you get pregnant" sending a roar of laughter through the crowd. One plea she did spot was Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me." With a little help from opening act, Lauren Alaina - last year's American Idol runner-up - the band rocked the house.
Not to be outdone by posters, Sugarland also let social media determine part of the 20-song set list. A pre-show text vote saw the hit, "Little Miss," top the most desired song list. Fans also took to Internet voting to hear the songs "Take Me as I Am" and "Run", the duo's collaboration with Matt Nathanson.
One of the more poignant moments was the performance of the emotionally charged "Stay." This Grammy Award winning ballad had everyone in the audience singing every word. The only song Jennifer Nettles has ever written on her own for Sugarland, it has become the band's signature hit. With Kristian Bush strumming the acoustic guitar by his partner's side, the song most definitely touched everyone in the audience. Another solemn moment involved Nettles on the piano for "Love" which was followed by another touching song for the singer, "Baby Girl," the band's debut single from their 2004 album Twice the Speed of Light.
The duo changed things up on their hit single, "All I Want to Do" by mixing in elements of Cheap Trick's classic "I Want You to Want Me" throughout the song. A couple of more compositions from the group's debut were also performed, "Fly Away" and "Something More", before the band closed the evening with Bush pulling out the mandolin for the down home song, "Sugarland."
As I alluded to earlier, the last 12 months have definitely put Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush on the emotional rollercoaster ride of their lives. As evidenced tonight, this pair isn't going to let the past, or the present for that matter, slow the Sugarland express down. The fact they have decided to tour four months into Nettles pregnancy just to engage their fans before they say so long for a couple of years to write and record another album - and enjoy motherhood - is a swan song only these two could pull off. Rest assured, their fans will be there to welcome them back.