This weekend, a pair of Atlanta mainstays will swing their tours through their hometowns for a brief blast of familiarity.
Sugarland brings its “Still the Same” tour to Infinite Energy Arena Friday, while Janelle Monae visits the Tabernacle for shows Saturday and Sunday.
Here is what you can expect…
Janelle Monae has yet to blast into ubiquitous territory with an inescapable, overplayed hit.
She’s earned kudos for her foray into acting – and her eye for quality landed her in two Oscar-bait films in 2016 – but she isn’t battling Tom Cruise or ABBA at the box office.
And, three albums into a critically adored music career, she’s still booking mid-sized clubs.
Some might say, where is the growth? Why isn’t she filling arenas by now? Maybe she should bring her natural acting talents to a garish superhero blockbuster or something more visible. Heck, some only know her flawless beauty from her Cover Girl ads, not even realizing the depth of her talents.
We say Monae is playing it brilliantly.
The Atlanta transplant, who hits the Tabernacle this weekend for a pair of concerts (Saturday is sold out, Sunday has a few general admission tickets left), has managed to retain her artistry, her creativity and her freedom by coolly staying just a fraction under the radar.
She can shout a genuine political voice on Stephen Colbert’s late-night show – as she did recently with a visceral performance of “Americans” – and share with Rolling Stone that she is a “queer black woman” who identifies with pansexuality and it’s accepted without the overbearing scrutiny that would accompany comments by, say, Beyonce or Taylor Swift.
Monae’s current album, “Dirty Computer,” was long in the works – five years – as she detoured from music to dabble in film (“Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight”). She worked with Prince on the concept album and the deliciously funky single, “Make Me Feel,” before his untimely death, and his influence is finger-painted throughout every aspect of her career.
For those who haven’t yet witnessed Monae live, the simplest description is – electrifying.
From her 2010 appearance on “Late Show with David Letterman,” when she practically incinerated the Ed Sullivan Theatre with her performance of “Tightrope” - her James Brown homage sporting a cameo from another early believer and collaborator, Outkast’s Big Boi - to an eyebrow-raising version of “Make Me Feel” during a May episode of NBC’s otherwise milquetoast “The Voice,” Monae is a captivating stage presence.
Her Tabernacle shows will be opened by St. Beauty, one of the artists on her Wondaland Records label (she also rooted the Wondaland Arts Collective in Atlanta). Since establishing the imprint in 2015, Monae has trumpeted the work of fellow soul-funk-R&B-pop artists including Jidenna and Roman GianArthur.
Not only is she doing things her way, she’s providing a platform for those who share her vision of authenticity.
With St. Beauty. 7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $59.50-$182.91. Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, livenation.com.
In late May, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush bopped onto the stage of James Brown Arena in Augusta with visible joy.
It had been five years since the country behemoths known as Sugarland performed in front of an arena crowd together, having taken time to explore other creative avenues (solo albums for both, acting on Broadway – “Chicago” – and in Dolly Parton’s TV movies for Nettles and composing a musical – “Troubadour” – and writing and producing music for Bush) and live life outside of the bubble of “Baby Girl,” “Stuck Like Glue” and “Want To.”
Sugarland was birthed in Atlanta – Nettles is a native of Douglas, while Bush still lives in Decatur – and kicking off their tour in their home state had an air of specialness.
But their REAL homecoming will be Friday, when their “Still the Same” tour pulls into Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth (OK, it’s not quite Atlanta, but it’s closer than Augusta!). Young hitmakers Frankie Ballard and Lindsay Ell (whom Bush has produced) will open the show.
As the tour rolled through the country this summer, Nettles and Bush added a slot in their setlist to address social issues. They’ve been performing Patty Griffin’s “Tony,” in support of the LGBTQ community and its struggles.
The tour, which rolls through September in Philadelphia, is a complement to Sugarland’s first album in eight years, “Bigger,” which arrived in June.
While the album hasn’t ignited the charts with the same instant gusto as their material from the golden era of the mid-‘00s, they’ve maintained a steady presence with the sweetly reminiscent title track and current single, “Babe,” which is given a visibility boost from one Taylor Swift.
A few hours before show time at that May show in Augusta, Bush and Nettles talked with us backstage about the song (and other topics).
“We’re on Big Machine, Taylor’s label, and (label head) Scott Borchetta brought the song to us and said you’re not gonna believe this, but Taylor is pitching a song and I let her know you guys might be getting back together,” Bush explained.
“We’re so lucky,” Nettles added, “because in taking a hiatus, there’s a whole group of people around her demographic that did not know Sugarland; they missed us. So how fantastic to be offered that introduction.”
For their live tour, Sugarland is employing a “big top” theme, filled with bright colors, big guitar sounds and an air of playfulness.
“What we’ve always done, and wanted to continue to build upon, is we like to think our shows are transportive,” Nettles said. “We also like theater a lot. And I’m not saying this in a critical way, but it’s very popular now to have only the biggest, baddest technology of a giant screen behind you the whole time and you can get wonderful art because of the content that can be on those screens. But at the same time, we’re a little bit more organic and I think a little more theatrical than technological in our visual aesthetic.”
Said Bush, “We’re a band-on-a-stage band. There are no computers driving our set. It’s really great people. We trust in great musicians, we put them on the stage and you create a wave and you power it.”
With Frankie Ballard and Lindsay Ell. 7 p.m. Friday. $31.50-$101. Infinite Energy Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 770-626-2464, infiniteenergycenter.com.
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