Under the Big Top: Sugarland’s Portland Return

Vortex Music Magazine

After six years away, Sugarland made their Portland return last weekend, bringing their brand new album, 'Bigger,' to the Moda Center arena.

Sugarland at the Moda Center on June 9, 2018. Photo by Eli Murphy.Sugarland at the Moda Center on June 9, 2018. Photo by Eli Murphy.June 8 touted a highly anticipated release for the country music world. Eight years after the release of their last album, acclaimed country duo Sugarland (Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush) made their official return with the release of their sixth studio album, Bigger.

For Portland fans, time was short to eat up the whole of the new release before the show. Sugarland made their return to Portland just the day after the Bigger drop. Portland fans basked in the new music, learning as many lyrics as they could before swarming the Moda Center on Saturday night.

It had been six years since the duo came near Portland; their last appearance in Oregon was at the 2012 Willamette Country Music Festival. Still, the band clung to the crowd's anticipation. The night opened with two other acclaimed country names, Australian singer-songwriter and actress Clare Bowen, and Northwest native Brandy Clark.

Bowen, along with her husband Brandon Robert Young on guitar, filled the room with love, bridging each song with short but sweet odes to her husband and their marriage. Her vocals shined, and of course, the chemistry between the two of them made hearts throughout the arena flutter.

Clark switched the vibe of the evening from loving acoustic melodies to a more brash rock 'n' roll country sound. With a bigger setup and a bigger fanbase in attendance, Clark showcased not only her skills as a strong country songwriter (Clark has written for artists such as Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves), but as a rocker with sharp guitar skills and songs with anger, mood and grit in every riff and lyric.

After nearly two hours of anticipation, the lights dimmed and the crowd got to their feet for Sugarland’s return to the stage.

In our chat with Kristian Bush, he gave a bit of a peek into what the crowd could expect from the night: “We love to put some magic in the room,” he said. Right away, it was clear that Bush’s sentiment was 100% true.

Sugarland at the Moda Center on June 9, 2018. Photo by Eli Murphy.Sugarland at the Moda Center on June 9, 2018. Photo by Eli Murphy.As the opening notes of their new record’s title track sounded out, a large curtain lit up to reveal the silhouette of the duo, ready to treat the packed arena. The curtain dropped, the song kicked off, and the magic that Bush had promised was revealed.

The stage illuminated, Sugarland’s big top circus was on display. Red drapery hung off the backside of the stage, topped with a red and white striped tent top. Signs hung behind the band advertised acts from their carnival: “Jumping Gemini,” “Fortune Teller.” At the center of the action, the duo acted the role of ringmasters for the night, kicking things off with three of their biggest hits, “Bigger,” “All I Wanna Do” and “Stuck Like Glue.” With three of their chart toppers already through, the rest of the evening was left for the bulk of their discography, a treat for the longtime Sugarland fans in attendance.

Adorned in a red cape, Jennifer Nettles delivered stunning vocals through the whole of the night, while Kristian Bush acted the perfect complement, supporting her vocals with just as much energy in his strong guitar work.

The duo played through hits ranging their entire discography, both as a band and as solo artists. Taking the mic as his own, Bush addressed the crowd: “A lot of people think Jennifer and I have just been on vacation for the last eight years. Actually, we’ve been busy.”

Bush then treated the crowd to his own solo cut, “Trailer Hitch.” “Surprised I can sing?” he laughed. Nettles followed her bandmate with her own emotional rendition of her solo stunner, “Unlove You,” before joining Bush once again for the Sugarland track “Incredible Machine.”

Throughout the night, the country duo never let the magic cease. Their set took upbeat turns, fashioned with a medley of their latest album cut, “On a Roll,” alongside Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk.” They took it down for slower cuts, like the beautiful “Bird in a Cage” and classic Sugarland tune, “Stay,” which involved the entire crowd, armed with their lighters and phones, singing the chorus all the way through.

Sugarland at the Moda Center on June 9, 2018. Photo by Eli Murphy.Sugarland at the Moda Center on June 9, 2018. Photo by Eli Murphy.And of course, the night wouldn't have been complete without their most recent radio hit, "Babe," which the duo introduced with thanks to Taylor Swift. Both Sugarland fans and the Swifties in attendance joined voices for a massive singalong: “We ain’t getting through this one, babe!”

Sugarland’s long-awaited return was a treat for all. With throwback songs and new cuts in the mix, the duo’s Still the Same tour rounded out to be the perfect reunion for the band and their thousands of longtime fans.

“People tell us all the time,” Nettles said before launching into the night’s encore. “You’re so lucky you and Kristian get to go out on tour and play all these shows for all your fans. And you know what I tell 'em? You’re damn right!”

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