Sugarland a perfect pitch in Louisville

By AMY HUFFMAN-BRANHAM

LOUISVILLE — “Can I sing ‘County Line’ with you?” Savannah from somewhere near Chattanooga asked via a rectangle of poster board.

She had brought her request to the right place. So had thousands of others who came to the KFC Yum! Center Saturday night to see Georgia duo Sugarland take the stage for its 2012 In Your Hands tour, and they did not leave disappointed.

Using their website, social media outlets, text messages and handmade signs in the crowd, Sugarland is seeking requests from its fans and building each show of the In Your Hands tour from scratch — based on what their fans say they want to hear.

Not everyone was as bold in their requests on Saturday as Savannah who looked to be about 10 years old. And not everyone found themselves being called up to center stage by the duo and handed a microphone like Savannah, either. But plenty of other fan requests were duly noted and granted by Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush and judging from the crowd’s enthusiasm, aisle dancing and post-show chatter, the masses left the show feeling pretty happy. How could they not?

They’re billed as a country super power — which is logical since they’ve been at the top of the country charts since their first album in 1994 —  and although there were a lot of cowboy boots in the Yum! Center Saturday, nary a pair graced the feet of Nettles or Bush. They are two pegs who refuse to be forced into just one shaped hole, coming at you from all directions with their musical menu.

The lead off triple — the driving opening number “Wide Open,” the zippy, addictive “Stuck Like Glue,” and the country stylings of “Settlin” — pretty much covered every musical base from the get-go.  And no matter which direction they went, Nettles nailed it every time.

An amazing talent, Nettles can do playful perfectly with songs like “All I Want To Do” and “Everyday America” and she is an undeniable vocal powerhouse on numbers like “Little Miss” and the emotional smash hit “Stay.”

My husband [and reluctant date for the evening] is not a Sugarland fan, although he’s familiar with some of their songs because he’s stuck living with me. Less than halfway through Saturday’s show, he said “Wow, She’s really good, that’s amazing.”

Indeed, Nettles was absolutely perfect on every vocal venture — including a brief foray into Salt n Peppa’s 1994 groove “Whatta Man.”

Though he definitely plays second fiddle to the stunning Nettles, Bush proved his role as a showman with his playful fan interaction. Bouncing off the stage and collecting fans’ signs, swimming through the crowd to give out guitar picks, climbing through the stands and giving his guitar to a lucky fan, Bush did charming to the hilt. He lifted a little girl onto the stage to help with a song and sat, legs dangling, on the edge of the stage with Ashton from Ohio during “Baby Girl” — which they dedicated to her grandmother and sang to via cell phone. And not to be completely vocally outdone, Bush got his chance to wow during the encore performance of a cover of REM’s “The One I Love.”

Nettles’ 80’s pop-inspired outfit [hot pink skinny jeans, white Capezio-esque shoes, slouchy striped top, white, airbrushed boyfriend blazer and a shiny gold bead necktie] was the perfect accompaniment to the duo’s absolute jam of the very fist-pumping, Debbie Harry/Go-Gos on steroids “Find the Beat Again,” that closed the show.

Without an album to promote, the In Your Hands Tour set is scaled down. There is nothing theatrical or overproduced about it — basically just Nettles, Bush and their very talented five-piece band doing their thing. The sound in the Yum! Center was spot on — not too loud, not tinny or echoing — pretty much exactly what you’d hear if you were listening to the album at home or on your iPod [with thousands of backup singers helping out, of course].  So perfect that even visual junkies can forgive what they didn’t see because what they heard was just so darn good.

The two opening acts Saturday, Canaan Smith and Lauren Alaina, were fine, though it was obvious who the fans were there to see. Half of Smith’s set — “Let’s Be Lonely Together” and “We got Us” was fun and promising. The 17-year-old [and “American Idol runner-up] Alaina’s high points came with her rendition of Little Big Town’s “Boondocks”  and her current radio single “Georgia Peaches.”

ALL PHOTOS BY C.E. BRANHAM

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About hoosierhits
The music blog of the News and Tribune, Jeffersonville & New Albany, Ind.

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