Summer may have officially commenced last week, but in Chicago, country music’s kickoff to the season was Saturday’s Sugarland show in Tinley Park. The energetic duo charmed the hearts of thousands packing the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre with the In The Hands Of The Fans Tour 2012.
The night literally started with a bang as lead vocalist Jennifer Nettles beat on a lone drum leading into the rocking track “Wide Open.” With Kristian Bush slaying the electric guitar, the crowd rose to its feet while repeatedly chanting “oh ay oh ay oh” per Nettles’ request.
She didn’t have to ask the fans to raise their voices, though, for the irresistibly sticky-sweet “Stuck Like Glue.” The catchy chorus sent many into a dancing frenzy.
As if the excitement was not enough, fireworks danced in the night sky just beyond the lawn seats. While the timing was impeccable, the display seemed unplanned as Nettles shouted mid-song, “Can you believe this?!”
Nettles and Bush were both so lively on stage, they were nearly as entertaining to watch as their music was to hear. The mother-to-be glowed in a pearly white blazer emblazoned with angel wings, and she seemed to almost floated across the stage, carried by her lovable bubbly personality. Her multi-instrumentalist bandmate wore his familiar black hat while constantly rotating guitars and scurrying around the platform. If he’d worn a pedometer, it would probably have recorded 13 miles throughout the course of the concert. He was darting from one end of the stage to the other for most of the 20-song set.
As the duo electrified the audience with lightning on-stage chemistry, they jumped into hits “Settlin’” and “Everyday America” from the 2006 Enjoy the Ride album. The crowd was perfectly content until Nettles brought a fan on stage. Why such a fuss over a lucky man being called upon? He had already danced with opening act Lauren Alaina when she noticed his sign explaining he missed prom to be at the concert. Little did she know, his “prom” took place five years ago.
His sign was the first of many memorable ones. Nettles spotted one describing a woman skipping a family reunion to attend the show, another showing a donkey, and even one including a handmade collage of Sugarland photos.
Posters were significant because fans could write song requests on them in hopes of hearing their favorite tunes.
The first request taken was Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” which featured Lauren Alaina, who returned to the stage in sweatpants and a tank top, enthralling the crowd with her unexpected appearance. The second fan-selected track was slightly delayed as Nettles searched for a specific sign that had caught her attention earlier. When she failed to find it, she apologized saying, “This is what happens when you get pregnant!” Her endearing humor triggered an uproar of laughter throughout the evening.
Despite her self-proclaimed forgetfulness, the show went on with another poster selection of “Steve Earle” off the 2008 record Love On The Inside. A pre-show text vote determined the following “Little Miss,” and voting via the Internet resulted in performances of the duo’s collaborative effort with Matt Nathanson (“Run”) and the rocking anthem “Take Me As I Am.” As the name suggested, the set list Saturday night truly was ‘in the hands of the fans.’
The fast pace of the show halted for the GRAMMY-winning “Stay.” The emotional ballad penned solely by Nettles showcased her powerhouse vocals as Bush soulfully strummed an acoustic guitar. Although the duo can bounce around stage and belt out contagious choruses, it was this moment that shined brighter than the rest. Without any wild lighting or antics, the pair exhibited the pure talent that earned them an arena full of adoring fans singing every word back to them.
After a passionate delivery of “Love” with Nettles on piano, the duo turned back the clock eight years with its debut single “Baby Girl.” A fortunate fan, Jenny, joined Jennifer and Kristian on stage, and thousands more inside the amphitheater sang their hearts out to one of Sugarland’s most popular tunes.
The sing-alongs continued with an upbeat summer groove for “all the sexy people in Chicago,” in the words of Nettles. She and Bush played their third number one hit, “All I Want to Do,” while mixing in pieces of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me.”
Following the uptempo, shout-inducing “Find The Beat Again” from the duo’s most recently released album The Incredible Machine, Nettles and Bush took everyone on a time machine ride back to 2004. They belted out “Fly Away” and “Something More” from their first album Twice the Speed of Life.
The show closed with the mandolin-laden ode to small-town living, “Sugarland.” The song choice was fitting for its chorus, “fallin’ in love again, down in Sugarland,” because the fans in Chicago undoubtedly fell deeper in love with the duo after that night.
- Kelly O’Brien/US99.5