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In concert: Sugarland at Merriweather Post Pavilion

sugarlandJennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush showed their ambitions beyond mainstream country Sunday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Scott Galupo

Before securing the blessing of key cultural arbiters like Oprah Winfrey and President Obama, Jennifer Nettles of the country duo Sugarland helped revitalize the career of Bon Jovi with the smash crossover duet "Who Says You Can't Go Home."

Don't hold it against her.

Hers is easily the strongest character voice to emerge from Nashville since the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines, and on Sunday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, almost anything she attempted sounded terrific: a snippet of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," the Dream Academy's "Life in a Northern Town" and even the full-on camp of Blondie's "Heart of Glass."

(Big hits and bigger ambitions, plus more pictures after the jump.)

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Nettles and co-frontman Kristian Bush played Sugarland faves, too - bouncy anthems about working-stiff romance and resilience such as "Something More," "It Happens" and "Everyday America."

A new album called "The Incredible Machine" is forthcoming, and to drive home its clanging metaphor for the human heart, Sunday's set was festooned with giant clockwork gears. Images of 19-century industrial automata flickered on a video screen while the backing band was dressed like extras from the set of "Back to the Future Part III."

Nettles, Bush and co. delivered the breakthrough hit "Baby Girl" with acoustic instruments and in tight bluegrass formation - a welcome touch of intimacy.

If the baroque sequence that introduced the new song "Wide Open" - all writhing shadows behind a translucent scrim - left any doubt that the Atlanta-based duo has ambitions beyond mainstream country, Nettles channeled vintage Bono-at-Red-Rocks during the encore by dramatically spray-painting the word "Love" on a white flag, with a peace sign scribbled inside the letter "o."

Yet more provocation: The Grammy Award-winning ballad “Stay” was a no-show.

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By David Malitz  |  May 17, 2010; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Jennifer Nettles, Sugarland  
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