Sydney, Australia 2003

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Dixie Chicks, Superdome
 
By Bernard Zuel
The Sydney Morning Herald

Last month, when Billy Bragg talked to his Sydney audience about peace, fairness and corrupt lying governments, he was the first to acknowledge he was preaching to the converted. (Although no one should forget that he converted many of them originally.)

It's a little different when the Dixie Chicks play Elvis Costello's version of What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding before they enter the stage. And when singer Natalie Maines introduces the Patty Griffin song Truth No.2 (that opens with "You don't like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth") by saying that the song has taken on extra significance for them since March 10 - when Maines's comments critical of George Bush's war agenda led right-wing nuts to ban and burn their records. And certainly different when that song is accompanied by videos of protest marches (from women's suffrage to pro-choice) and the burning of books and records by zealots in Nazi Germany and Bible-belt USA.

The Dixie Chicks audience that packed out the Superdome is as safe and comfortable a group of consumers as you'll find. Questioning governments is not - is never - on their agenda, and woe betide artists who agitate. But the Dixie Chicks slipped in their little bit of subversive independent thinking nonetheless, as if saying: "We're not so different to Bragg, you know."

Sure, in a big production show these were small gestures that may have been too subtle for some. But as with much of their concert - and their career - it showed how the Chicks cleverly walk the line between the obvious, smart, commercial choice in this most conservative of genres and the flash of independence. They can fit in something as smoothly pop-country as There's Your Trouble or Am I the Only One but also accommodate Patty Griffin songs, an Irish folk-flavoured bluegrass tune, such as More Love, or the high-stepping silliness of White Trash Wedding.

They can pump up the show we've enjoyed in more intimate theatres on previous tours with screens, carefully worked stagecraft for a wider stage and a band that stretches to 15 musicians at times. But, except for a too crowded Landslide that lacked air around their harmonies, they hold true and don't clutter up the songs.

Of course they're slick, and you do hunger for a full tilt at their roots rather than the mix and match of pop and country, but for a mainstream act as successful as they are the Dixie Chicks still feel real, still entertain royally and still have a brain. When commercial realities rule, none of those can ever be taken for granted.

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