Pittsburgh, PA 2004

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Concert Review: James Taylor, Dixie Chicks a fun mix

By John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Art and politics intersected at last night's Dixie Chicks and James Taylor concert. One of the coolest concerts of the year, it was a mass of contradictions.

Appropriately housed at Heinz Hall, the "concert" was a political fund-raiser, not for a candidate or party, but for a soft-money collection agency. The two headliners didn't play separate sets, they alternated -- flip-flopped, if you will -- every several songs. Instead of performing with their regular bands, both acts played with the same six musicians, a pickup band culled from the Chicks' and Taylors' road bands and a few extras, who read the score from music stands.

The Chicks, whose career was severely damaged by their political statements, kept mostly mum on the Bush-bashing, leaving it to the laid-back adult-contemporary Taylor to turn the political dagger.

Even the crowd was a contradiction. Obviously there for the message instead of the music, they responded to slight political jibes with standing ovations instead of the customary titters. And when the Dixie Chicks dedicated their hit "Travelin' Soldiers" to "the troops," a sentiment that normally draws huge applause from their fans, barely got a response from this audience.

Nevertheless, some of the collaborations were surprisingly artistic. Natalie Maines, still heavy from delivering her second child two months ago, sang the lead to "Sweet Baby James" while its author harmonized. Taylor, standing rigid in a blue suit without a tie, sang lead on the Chick's "Some Days You Gotta Dance," and they harmonized beautifully on Taylor's "Shower the People You Love with Love."

Separated into two sets, the two-hour show wouldn't have been complete without some partisan rhetoric, but the performers avoided speech-making.

"I'm not a very political songwriter," said Taylor. "I only wrote two political songs, one right after Richard Nixon left office and one when Ronald Reagan left office. And I feel another song coming on."

Maines, who was pilloried on country radio stations for criticizing President Bush at a London concert last year, told a cute story about the mother of Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, sisters and partners in the trio. Their mother, a sweet schoolteacher who adores their music, is a Republican, said Maines. The partisan crowd booed.

"But we're workin' on her," said Robison.

When the Chicks sang "Truth No. 2," Maines raised a defiant fist and stressed the lyric: "You don't like the sound of the truth / comin' from my mouth." The audience roared.

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