August 27, 2009
Live On the Inside
Sugarland has gone ahead and brought back the bootleg.
Their latest release is a CD and DVD combo that captures the essence of their live performances in two different ways. The DVD goes the conventional route, capturing one concert from start to finish in Lexington, Kentucky. The duo performs nearly all of their hits, and it’s a show with very little filler. They’ve had quite a few hits over the past few years, and they’ve held up well.
Sure, there are few of them that pack the punch of “Something More” or “Stay”, but they do their best to keep the older material fresh by updating the arrangements, and their unlimited and contagious enthusiasm for being on stage makes even the trite ones like “Settlin’” and “All I Want to Do” quite entertaining.
They make a darn good case for another Entertainer of the Year nomination. There are so few country artists who are able to radiate joy from the stage, and those that can do it end up with the audience in the palm of their hand, willing to do even ridiculous things like blow bubbles or sing a song about a drunk driving death in perfect unison.
Music is ridiculously accessible now that live concerts are often the only way for fans to truly get something special. Sugarland likes to throw in covers during their sets, and they include two by R.E.M. on the DVD: “The One I Love” and “Nightswimming.” These are definitely highlights of the filmed concert, and they also show up on the companion CD, which is anything but conventional.
The disc contains four Sugarland originals, but is dominated by the seven covers that are included. Along with the aforementioned R.E.M. tracks, the duo puts its own spin on a few classics and a pair of contemporary releases. They do a blistering cover of Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire”, and their countrified take on Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” is as fresh now as it was when it became a viral video hit a year ago.
But they reveal more of their roots and influences when they go back in time a little bit. Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” was one of their most significant songs, and it works very well as a stripped-down performance. With all due respect to Edie Brickell, Jennifer Nettles sounds like she was born to sing “Circle”, with her raw voice cutting down to the bone of the cutting lyrics that Brickell sang with a distant coffeehouse hippie detachment.
When they break into the B-52′s classic “Love Shack”, knowing that the audience will be singing along with every song, they do so without a wink and a nod. These aren’t covers done with tongue firmly in cheek, like Nickel Creek’s take on “Toxic.” Nor is it an older act trying to find deeper significance in the work of current artists, like Johnny Cash’s work with Rick Rubin.
No, Sugarland likes these songs, thinks that they sound awesome live, and they just want to sing them for their fans, knowing that they’ll go along for the ride. As recently as five years ago, finding even one of these performances on anything but a bootleg would be highly unlikely. Now, in a day and age where everything that’s released legitimately will be bootlegged anyway, Sugarland is one of the first acts to realize that the real fan service is making the traditional bootlegs legitimately available.