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August 26, 2011
No frills, plenty of thrills at Sugarland concert

sugarland.jpgSugarland's Jennifer Nettles, left, and Kristian Bush perform Thursday night at Raley Field. (Lezlie Sterling/

By Carla Meyer

Sugarland lead singer Jennifer Nettles was holdin' notes and takin' names Thursday at Raley Field, her remarkable voice at turns guttural and gentle, her charisma abundant.

Fueled by Nettles, Sugarland held the audience's full attention for much of a show staged without the benefit of the giant video screens found at most big shows.

Sugarland's stage set was destroyed Aug. 13 when stage rigging collapsed under high winds at a show in Indianapolis. Four people were killed that day, and three others died later. The stage collapse occurred during intermission, after Sara Bareilles' opening set and before Sugarland was to take the stage.

On Thursday night, Sugarland performed, without comment, before a plain black backdrop. The lack of acknowledgement was understandable.

Nettles and Sugarland musical partner Kristian Bush have expressed their grief and offered condolences on their website, planned a private memorial in Indiana and took a moment of silence at a concert last week in Albuquerque - their first show since Indiana - to remember the people who died in Indianapolis.

If they say more - or say something at every stop -- they run the risk of making it too much about them. Nettles suggested as much, during the show's only allusion to Indianapolis, when she noted a fan's sign referencing Indiana. "Thank you very much - I know those people appreciate it," she said.

She went right back to wishing other fans happy birthdays, and to playing the country-pop hits that brought 9,000 people - including plenty of children - to West Sacramento on a school night. (The show ended by a reasonable 9:45 p.m.).

The audience seemed to prefer more upbeat hits, brightening noticeably when Nettles and Bush broke out the bouncy "All I Want to Do" and happily jagged "It Happens."

Bush handled Jon Bon Jovi 's vocal part on the Bon Jovi-Nettles hit "Who Says You Can't Go Home," and did it so well you wished he would get more play at the microphone. On Thursday, he was primarily a guitar player and a harmony-centric Mama Judd to Nettles' big-pipes Wynonna.

As part of its encore, Sugarland brought opener Bareilles on stage for a performance of Dexys Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen." Bareilles' understated vocals blended nicely with Nettles' brassier tones in a number made more delightful by Nettles' exaggerated, Annie Oakley elbows-out dance moves.

Nettles is a bit of a ham, offering between-song tidbits like "There ain't no party like a Sugarland party." Her folksy demeanor seems at odds with her sophisticated voice and magnetic stage presence. But pretty, talented ladies can be goofballs, too.

The crowd's attention wavered noticeably during Nettles' performance of "Stay," a ballad in which the "other woman" addresses her (presumably) married lover. As Nettles poured her heart out on stage, fans chattered in the stands.

Perhaps they stopped paying attention because they were told a Sugarland party don't stop, but saw it did stop when adultery ballads started. Or they didn't want, in the presence of a spouse, to support a song sympathetic to cheating. Or maybe ballads do not play as well without giant video screens helping capture audience attention.

A problem with the last theory? Sara Bareilles.

The Eureka native's voice was warm and supple, and her piano fresh and playful throughout a set that included the hits "Love Song" and "King of Anything." But the standout was Bareilles' musically and lyrically complex ballad "Gravity." Rarely has a woman sounded so strong singing about her inability to resist a man who's bad for her.

Call The Bee's Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118

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