Last Night: Sugarland At RodeoHouston

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Sugarland Reliant Stadium March 3, 2011

The shenanigans have begun, folks. The Rodeo is back in Houston, and if you haven't already, it's time to stop by Reliant Stadium, pet some adorable farm animals, gain a few pounds eating fried everything - maybe even lose a few after visiting the amusement park - and get caught up in annual celebration of everything Texas once again.

As is tradition, the lights went out just before 9 p.m., fireworks dazzled newcomers and Ain't-My-First-Rodeo types alike, and a montage of past Rodeos was projected onscreen. As it all came to a close, the stage was lit up as Sugarland was met with a roar of applause.

Originally, Sugarland was straight-up alternative country - from their lyrics and vocal lines to their melodies - but the band's last album, 2010's Incredible Machine, was much poppier and geared toward a broader audience. It may have been somewhat of a risky move, but it worked; we haven't seen this many 16- to 25-year-old female country fans at the Rodeo since before the Dixie Chicks insulted President Bush.

Also, it probably doesn't hurt that the band's most recent single, "Stuck Like Glue," is just as catchy at Train's "Hey, Soul Sister."

Vocalist Jennifer Nettles' voice reverberated through the stadium as seats continued to fill, and though her range and tone were impressive, she was a little whiny for our taste, and her southern twang was layered much too thick; but damn it if we weren't blown away by her onstage personality.

Nettles genuinely looked like she was enjoying the show just as much as her fans.

During "Little Miss," a slow, inspirational ballad about a young girl starting over after a few too many disappointments, a couple in the VIP area (where concert goers can sit closer to the stage than anyone else) stood up and began to dance. This has got to be one of the biggest compliments a band can receive during this type of song.

But that song was the outlier of the evening, as almost every other one was upbeat and catchy.

Before the last chorus of "Everyday America," Nettles and crew performed a medley of well-known pop choruses, including Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time," "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child and even Cee-Lo Green's "Fuck You" (the edited version, of course). Later on, the band even coved Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline."

We're not sure if the performance got better or if we just got lost in the music, but by halfway through it, we were bobbing our heads and smiling along with the rest of the crowd. From that point on, we stopped thinking about it and simply enjoyed the show.

It took a song or two to warm up to Nettles' style, but once we did, we really enjoyed ourselves, especially her humor, charm and rapport with the other musicians sharing the stage with her.

If last night's performance was any indication, it's going to be a great Rodeo season.

Yee-haw, y'all.

Personal Bias: We still haven't warmed up to alt-country, but the Rodeo wouldn't be the same without it, and we love the atmosphere.

The Crowd: RodeoHouston always brings an entertaining and lively crowd, and last night was no different. Big cowboy hats with brims dipped toward the wearer's mustache, button-downs above large bellies, tucked into surprisingly tight blue jeans, which were held up by large, shiny belt buckles and, of course, big ol' cowboy boots.

Overheard In the Crowd: While looking for a certain parking lot that's known to have plenty of spaces and is easy to get out of - nope, we're not telling which one! - Aftermath asked a police officer for directions. After greeting us with a hearty "Howdy!" he proceeded to tell us to "pull up here, flip a bitch and go straight; you'll see it on your left, hoss." Thanks, pardner.

Random Notebook Dump: Sandwiches are officially outdated. Did you know that BBQ baked potatoes are sold at the Rodeo? They're only 50 cents more than a BBQ sandwich, and they are way more satisfying. We're now determined to try all of our favorite sandwich ingredients on a baked potato.

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