There were far fewer cowboy hats in evidence at last Saturday’s Sugarland concert at the Mandalay Bay Events Center than you’d see at a typical country show, but that’s not really surprising, since Sugarland isn’t much of a country act anymore. The concert was basically an arena pop-rock experience, with the group’s earthy early songs contrasting with the later glossier numbers, especially those from recent album The Incredible Machine. But singer Jennifer Nettles and guitarist Kristian Bush bridged the gaps by delivering every song with equal enthusiasm, making even intimate songs like the melancholy acoustic “Stay” (performed by the duo without backing musicians) fill the arena.
- August 27, Mandalay Bay Events Center
Stripped-down numbers like “Stay” and a campfire-style performance of “Baby Girl” with the entire band huddled at the front of the stage were the highlights of the show, driven by Nettles’ wonderfully twangy voice and the duo’s solid songwriting. But the bigger moments prevailed, and some of them were undeniably cheesy, especially the medley of pop covers thrown into the middle of “Everyday America” and the finale of Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen” featuring opener Sara Bareilles, clearly the group’s attempt to replicate the success of their version of “Life in a Northern Town.”
If Sugarland is going to leave country music behind, it’s clear that the group has a handle on how to make the transition. Just two weeks after a stage-collapse disaster in Indiana (which went unmentioned) overshadowed their music with tragedy, Nettles and Bush were eagerly and confidently showing the positive power of their songs.