Sugarland: Healing Hearts
Indianapolis, IN – Conseco Fieldhouse
October 28, 2011
By Anthony Kuzminski
READ my review of Sugarland's Rockford, IL show HERE.
Ten years ago this month, the world was reeling from the events of 9/11 and U2 kicked off their fall tour in the state of Indiana at the University of Notre Dame. For nearly two hours on that cold night in October, the band lifted the 8,000 fans in a performance that transcended words. Ten years later, it was Sugarland’s turn to lift hearts and minds. Moments before they were set to take the stage at the Indiana State Fair in August a storm came in destroying their stage, dozens were injured and seven people lost their lives. It’s one of those life events that change you. Having seen the Sugarland tour the night before in Rockford, IL, I couldn’t imagine how they have managed to perform for the last two months and how much courage it took for them to return and not just perform, but be a beacon of light for the Indianapolis community. Friday night at the Conseco Fieldhouse Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush took to the stage early in the evening to a nearly full house to address the events that occurred. Nettles went on to say “Obviously we are here in October we were supposed to do this show in August. Obviously, the stage is different, you are different and we are different. We are all changed by what happened then…but we are going to try to give you the best show that we can and to celebrate healing with you and to celebrate life and music with you here tonight.” With an emotionally driven set focused around The Incredible Machine facing the crowd early on was the right choice because it would permit them to center on the performance. And this is just what they did.
The stage I saw in August is no more. The carefree spirit of the show remains intact in certain parts, but heaviness attaches itself to material from The Incredible Machine and this is not a bad thing. I’ve always believed that great music is defined over time when it’s non-specific. This is why U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind is a better 9/11 album than anything that followed it. They weren’t inspired by a specific set of events, but they were in tune with themselves enough to color a landscape of colors to be embraced by those in search of something more. The same could be said of The Incredible Machine where Bush and Nettles painted immense strokes of color pulled deep from within. There are sunny melodies and bright choruses but more importantly the songs help you find your soul in the process. The Incredible Machine is an album of inspirational triumph and it’s needed now more than ever. Taking to the bare stage at 8:25, the lights dimmed and the fuzz feedback of “All We Are” could be heard before the band fired away as the house lights went on and off they went delivering a knock-out emotionally gut wrenching set over 90-minutes. Lyrics such as “Lift me up/ It’s not over” (as harmonized by Bush) had stronger resonance than ever. One of the reasons I find the songs on The Incredible Machine so endearing are the way they sound like arena rock but cut through loads of red tape and are ultimately compositions about the matters of the heart. The whole band, dressed in black performed a no frills show that pays tribute to the simplicities of life. Hearing these songs makes one remember our purpose in life; to love.
The set list was a ready-made to soothe the soul. “Settlin’” was a hymn of empowerment, “Tonight” was celestial in its yearning vocal for which one could see Nettles channeling from within on the performance. As her eyes were closed with a feverish intensity, her right arm was wrapped around her waist and her left hand was above her heart. This wasn’t showboating but an artist lost in the moment and this is what we live for when you witness something undeniably real. She did this unconsciously. The extended jam at the end of “The Incredible Machine” was a moment for the band to let the music take over. The give and take with the audience of “calling” was warm and ethereal. “Stuck Like You”, “It Happens”, “All I Want To Do” and an acoustic “Baby Girl” found Sugarland at the peak of their commercial powers with songs that reach to the upper stands of the Fieldhouse connecting band and fan. “Every Girl Like Me” was affecting yet featured a mischievous Nettles. Drummer Travis McNabb and bassist Annie Clements fasten the bounciness here for Nettles to deliver her sermon. As commanding as Bush and Nettles are as the focal point, credit must be given to the backing band that brings their vision into focus. Guitarist Scott Patton fires away on his guitars in the darkness while Thad Beaty fills in the blanks with mandolin, acoustic guitar and whatever else the band needs. Brandon Bush is another secret weapon whose organ exuded soul on certain numbers, specifically the heart wrenching “Stay”. Clements and McNabb add the supplementary thrusts to make the songs compelling and not mere studio reproductions.
During the encore, “The Incredible Machine (Interlude)” was sung by Kristian. In the background, a white flag is opened and Nettles throughout the tour spray painted the world “Love” on it but on this evening, she wrote “HEAL” and as a young fan took the flag throughout the arena, the band performed “Stand Up” and this was where it all came together. If none of the previous songs had found their way inside you, then this performance had to. As Nettles and Bush harmonized together on the final verse, their voices quivered and the 18,000 in attendance soaked up the lyrics;
When the walls fall all around you
When your hope has turned to dust
Let the sound of love surround you
Beat like a heart in each of us
There was a heightened awareness to these songs as a whole. You could see the message and meaning in their eyes as they performed these songs. This music adapts itself to your life no matter what you are going through. For some the music opens eye ducts for tears to flow and for others it allows life to come into focus in a moment of awakening. The evening’s most moving moment came during “Little Miss” where the pit in front of the stage was filled with signs one of which read “Lives Were Lost, Lives Were Changed”. These songs are tools for healing and hopefully those affected first hand can work their way through it. While it may prove difficult to listen to some of these songs straight away, in the long run, they’ll resonate and be reminders of our continued willpower to live. Ultimately the Indianapolis Sugarland concert was as carefree as a Friday night yet as somber as a Sunday mass; Sugarland melded these two worlds for an evening of indication with an eye on tomorrow. The last paragraph of my Rockford review from August was written after the tragedy and it sums up exactly why I feel Sugarland’s music is a source of healing and why it should be embraced and I feel compelled to end this review with it once again. When those who lived through this tragedy hears this music they’ll stand taller, feel more, love more and be more aware than they ever have before and anytime you make people more aware of the beauty life can encapsulate, that’s never a bad thing. Sometimes, we just need a little music to guide us down the path and at this moment in time for me, and I am assuming several others, Sugarland will be the sound of love that surrounds us.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter