As the better half of what even Oprah has called country music’s new dynamic duo, Nettles has been dealing with vocal strain since January and was under doctor’s orders to take a break. So co-leader Kristian Bush and the other five touring members were left twiddling their thumbs when five shows in July were canceled.
Sugarland has been trying to do damage control ever since, while missing high-profile dates as the opening act for Keith Urban in Los Angeles and Phoenix. They resumed their tour in the Great Northwest this past weekend and are expected to team up with Urban again when the "Escape Together World Tour" moves to Little Rock, Arkansas, on August 6.
If you were among the thousands of disappointed fans that missed these accomplished performers, or are just wondering what all the fuss is about, you’re in luck this week. The Sugarland express is coming at ya.
Their first network TV special was scheduled to air Monday, August 3 on ABC (8 p.m. EDT), setting up the next day’s release of Live On The Inside, a CD/DVD set that will be sold “exclusively” at Wal-Mart and walmart.com. (Copies are showing up on amazon.com, though.) Retail price is $12.
Nothing ever quite compares to seeing the real thing, but the DVD, shot October 25, 2008, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, might come close. Twenty cameras capture all the visually stunning action (including slow motion) from all angles and most of the hits by the Grammy-winning artists, who have sold almost 7 million records since signing with Mercury Nashville in 2004. The hard-working twosome has been constantly on the road, promoting their third album Love On The Inside, which was released just over a year ago.
The one-hour TV special is essentially a shortened version of the DVD, so if you like what you see and hear from the Country Music Association’s Vocal Duo of the Year, a trip to the nearest supercenter on Tuesday will likely be on your to-do list.
The 10-song CD takes listeners to other stops on the tour, including Atlanta, Austin, Texas, and Minneapolis, where their cover of “Love Shack” by the B-52's is a special treat. And speaking of covers, Bush, the man behind the mandolin who’s usually heard singing harmony, takes over lead vocals and stands out on “The One I Love.” It’s one of two R.E.M. songs on each format as Sugarland pays homage to their Georgia brethren.
The DVD concert footage was shot in high definition and the 5.1-channel surround sound is especially concert-worthy, enhancing the experience of hearing Nettles in top-notch form. The vibrant Georgia singer-songwriter is an enticing entertainer, whether she’s capturing your heart with a beautiful “Love” song, belting out inspirational anthems like “Already Gone” or persuading a crowd to join in on “All I Want to Do.”
As she says on the CD, “Of course, you can always sing in Sugarland.”
DVD vs. Denver
So how does Sugarland the DVD compare with Sugarland the concert? Here’s a breakdown, showing the winner in each category, but keep in mind the reviewed DVD was a rough cut and that the group opened for Urban on July 15 at the Pepsi Center in Denver:
• Total songs: DVD wins, 16-15; the setlist is essentially the same, though Denver misses out on the ode to “Steve Earle” and the toe-tapping “Down In Mississippi (Up To No Good).” But the DVD leaves out “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” the Bon Jovi hit that’s become a rousing crowd-pleaser. Tailored for each concert stop Sugarland makes, a big-screen video features prominent city landmarks and highlights its sports teams.
• No. 1 hits: Even. All five appear in both (“Want To,” “Settlin’,” “Stay,” “All I Want To Do” and “It Happens”), although “It Happens” only runs over the DVD credits.
• Style points: Denver. Giving Kentucky an early advantage, Bush tries on a cowboy hat in addition to his trademark fedora, and Nettles’ red beret makes an appearance in both places. But the gray blouse, torn jeans and red boots she wears in Denver are much more trend-setting than the workout wardrobe she displays in Lexington.
• Gimmicks: DVD. No contest. Glow sticks and bubble blowers are seemingly in every hand throughout Rupp Arena, long before Nettles and Bush transport themselves over the crowd in giant inflatable balls. Sugarland was still opening umbrellas indoors in Denver, but the cozy lanterns hovering overhead were a classy touch.
• Bonus: Denver. While the Sugarland CD is a dandy extra, with five covers not on the DVD, including songs by Kings of Leon (“Sex on Fire”), Pearl Jam (“Better Man”) and Beyonce (“Irreplaceable”), it can’t measure up to Keith Urban’s explosive performance at the Pepsi Center.
Call it a draw, but consider this: The two-for-one package is far less expensive than a cheap seat at almost any venue featuring Sugarland these days. And Nettles is guaranteed to stay all the way.
• Check out a complete Denver concert review, along with photos of Sugarland’s opening and Keith Urban’s headline performance.
• See the Sugarland trailer below and go to their YouTube channel for more videos.