Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles told 4,600 fans at the Centrium on Wednesday that she was feeling a little Twlight-Zone-ish here in Alberta.
“It’s snowing out there!” said the Georgia-born country-rocker who’s more used to seeing magnolia blossoms at the end of April. “It’s like being in an alternative universe, it’s so cold out there!”
Despite the late snowfall and Sugarland’s rain-like stage lighting effects, things heated up quickly for Nettles and her cohort Kristian Bush, who both got a rousing welcome from audience members as young as eight to as old as 80. (While Sugarland is as much a rock act as anything else, you know it’s a country concert when whole families are waiting politely for this Grammy Award-winning band to appear.)
Nettles and Bush and their five-person band promptly came on stage amid white umbrellas lit up with fairy lights, and Sugarland started a 95-minute set with the anthem-ey song Love. It immediately got rows of fans standing and swaying.
The black-clad singers — Nettles wore a long sleeveless vest, high boots and leggings, Bush a black jacket and odd-shaping funnel-topped shoes — then performed Settlin’, about taking a chance on a new romance.
That’s when the first neon glow sticks began to appear, like fireflies in the dark.
Fans clapped their hands above their heads as Nettles, with her twangy powerhouse voice, launched into her signature hit, It Happens, about “one of those days when you roll off your back and you know it’s going to be a bad day.” Ropes of lights dropped from the Centrium ceiling, like rain.
Sugarland videos alternated with live footage of Wednesday’s concert on a giant screen as the duo performed Want To, about whether to wade into romance or remain ‘just friends.’
As bubbles floated down from the ceiling and a dreamy piano intro unwound, Nettles, now wearing a red sequined hat, sang a magical version of REM’s Nightswimming. Her simple delivery exposed the poetry of the song’s lyrics and pretty much left everyone in the Centrium “pining for the moon.”
The painful what-ifs of lost love were dealt with in the plaintive tunes, Joey and Blood on Snow. The powerfully emotional ballad, Stay, also went over huge with the crowd.
Nettles brought back her bubbly, fun persona and upped the tempo with Already Gone, which she dedicated to anyone who has switched gears as frequently as the song’s heroine, who fell in and out of love too fast.
Bush contributed nice acoustic guitar and harmonies and Nettles pulled a few ballet poses as lanterns descended from the heavens.
But the best song of the evening was Genevieve.
Beginning with the staccato tones of a lone marching drummer, the vaguely Celtic tune for the love-lorn eventually gained an accordion, guitars, and a bass, but still retained the improvised sound of musicians coming together to spontaneously pull off a memorable performance.
Sugarland has become known for guitar giveaways, and sure enough, a little girl in the audience wearing a pink top and an astounded expression on her face was given an autographed instrument by Bush— just before Nettles sang Sugarland’s other super-hit, the infectious All I Want to Do, with its ear-worm-like “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” chorus.
Nettles and Bush ended the concert rather slickly — or some would say sentimentally — by flashing photos of Red Deer’s street signs and businesses and Bower Ponds, while they performed Who Says You Can’t Go Home. The crowd went wild — particularly when a Calgary Flames jersey was flashed on the video screen.
But the sun literally didn’t come up until the encore, when a cardboard depiction of the heavenly body rose just after Nettles sang her hit, Baby Girl and just before she donned a blond afro wig and sang the B-52s tune Love Shack with Bush. The two performers later rolled over the audience inside giant beach balls. Now wasn’t that a party?
The concert opened with country-rocker Billy Currington, who pleased the crowd with his quirky hit, People are Crazy.