Newcomers Tara Thompson and Lindsey Ell both were given short-three-song stints before handing it over to Brandy Clark, who would be the most exciting singer on this night. Nettles closed out the night in a theatrical-flavored performance.
Ell, a Canadian singer, played solo and showed off good guitar skills. She also resorted to using musical and vocal loops to enhance her sound, which didn't make you think country. These days, though, that doesn't mean she was on the wrong tour.
Clark has gained points for her sterling 2013 full-length debut, "12 Stories," which critics understandably ate up. Since signed to Warner, Clark also has a lengthy songwriting resume, particularly with Kacey Musgraves.
But the country music world is littered with writers, who ought to stay out of the performing limelight. Not so with Clark.
For starters, she has good vocal delivery, not oversinging, but, instead, matching the needs of the songs. Maybe the best indication was her take on Miranda Lambert's hard country of "Mama's Broken Heart." Clark turned in a highly credible reading of the hit, not making you pine away for Lambert.
As for the material, she mixed old and new, offering a mélange of styles and tempos. Her reading of her brand new (as in released the day before) single, "Girl Next Door," sounded far stronger live than it did in the recorded version. "Big Day in a Small Town," also a new song, worked well.
What sets Clark apart is that she sings about people who just might be real with a bent towards women and their lives - "Three Kids No Husband," a song she wrote with Lori McKenna" or the new "Homecoming Queen."
From start to finish, Clark turned in a well-appointed, well-done stint.
Nettles, one-half of the now dormant Sugarland, assumed the role of the star with her gold lame pants and strutting about the stage. Nettles has one powerfully commanding voice, which was on display throughout.
While trying to forge her own solo career (a new disc is coming in April), she did not ignore her Sugarland material either with takes on "Baby Girl," "Want To," "Something More," which closed the regular set, and "Stay," the first song of the encore.
The impression Nettles left was one of a theatrical singer who was born for the stage as in Broadway. Oh, she's good at what she does as a pop-oriented country singer, but she was at her best on a cover of Sara Bareilles' "She Used to Be Mine" from the show "Waitress." Nettles, who did time on the Great White Way in "Chicago," turned in the right sense of emotion.
As for the new material, Nettles covered Holly Williams' "Three Days in Bed," but Williams' take was better. Nettles threw in a few different styles on the soulful "Sugar," including rap, which seemed out of left field.
There's no doubt about Nettles' vocal abilities, but it came off more like a Performance than a concert - precise, stylized and perhaps a bit lacking in emotion.
Nettles unfortunately closed with "With a Little Help From My Friends" with the Joe Cocker version as the reference point. The song brought out all four singers, but unfortunately, Nettles was the only one of the four whose vocal style filled the bill. Thompson could barely be heard. Ell turned in some nice guitar lines, but all would have been better served by another choice.
It's hard to say that any of these four will live up to the tour billing. But Clark certainly has already proved she has the chops no matter what lies ahead. And if she just happens to be the next woman of country, that'll be most welcome.