Six full years after their last visit to Fallsview Casino’s cozy Avalon Ballroom Theatre, recently reunited country band Sugarland returned to Niagara Falls for their “Still the Same” comeback tour.
Powerhouse singer Jennifer Nettles and bearded guitar/mandolin virtuoso Kristian Bush have arguably outgrown the 1,500 seat venue; whether it was a sense of loyalty or the decadent fudge that brought them back, Sugarland’s second of two sold-out shows was anything ordinary as Nettles belted out on their country hit “It Happens”.
As could probably be expected, the reassembled band’s set leaned heavily on songs from month-old albumBigger– a record very much in line with past Sugarland endeavours, one that continues to kick down genre-defining music fences. “Let Me Remind You”, for one, fuses reggae with Latino grooves and traditional pedal steel guitar. “On a Roll” sees Nettles evoke memories of Debbie Harry rapping on Blondie’s “Rapture”, which bookended an awesome live remix medley that included “Give Up the Funk”, “Billie Jean” and “Express Yourself”. Finally, latest single “Babe” features another country pop-ish artist on Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group…Taylor something or other, who I’m sure is going places.It was an all too short evening from a musically cohesive, exceptionally energetic group firing once anew on all cylinders. Performing each song with passion that was visible on each of the five touring members’ faces (not to mention Nettles and Bush’s), they had the entire audience believing “there’s gotta be something more”, from their Twice the Speed of Life debutalbum and acting as emotionally triumphant closer.
Nettles in particular, with her blinged out pantsuit and effervescent Southern personality, was a vocal tour de force. Anyone who has ever had the honour of being in the same vicinity as her can vouch for this gifted musician’s commanding stage presence and lyrical sincerity. Even though Sugarland ran through the same set as the previous night, she and Bush are masters at making fair-weather and hardcore fans feel special, going so far as to wear Maid of the Mist ponchos, and it’s that type of attention to detail that makes devotees apparently fly all the way from places like Kuwait for one concert. I don’t know if I left Niagara Falls any more of a country music enthusiast, but I’d definitely travel to the ends of the earth to hear Nettles and have her pierce my soul!