Detroit, MI 2006
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photo by John T. Greilick / The Detroit News

Chicks' music drowns out their politics

by Adam Graham, Detroit News

Friday night, Joe Louis Arena
GRADE: B+

Dixie Chicks setlist:

"Lubbock or Leave It"
"Truth No. 2"
"Goodbye Earl"
"The Long Way Around"
"Landslide"
"Everybody Knows"
"I Like It"
"Cowboy Take Me Away"
"Lullaby"
"White Trash Wedding"
"Lil’ Jack Slade"
"Not Ready to Make Nice"
"Easy Silence"
"Long Time Gone"
"So Hard"
"Top of the World"
"Some Days You Gotta Dance"
"Wide Open Spaces"
"Sin Wagon"
"Ready to Run"
Encore:
"Travelin’ Soldier"
"Mississippi"
"I Hope"

    When the Dixie Chicks opened their North American tour Friday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the question wasn't if they'd get political, it was how political would they get.

    So when the Chicks came on stage to a march reminiscent of "Hail to the Chief," it seemed as though the crowd might be in for an evening full of full-on Bush-bashing.

    That was hardly the case, however, as President Bush -- whom Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines infamously told a London audience she was ashamed to share the home state with in 2003 -- was never mentioned by name during the 115-minute show.

    And for the most part, the Chicks let their music do the talking, and politics took a back seat to a rollicking evening of refined, down home country music courtesy of the Chicks -- Maines, guitar and banjo player Emily Robison and violin and fiddle player Martie Maguire -- and their nine-piece backing band.

    (The band was also joined on stage and in the crowd by a team of cameras, who were filming the show for a documentary.)

    Attendance figures weren't available, though there were plenty of seats available in the Joe's upper deck. The crowd was largely female and cut across a wide range of ages.

    Opening with "Lubbock or Leave It" from their new album "Taking the Long Way," the Chicks -- dressed in black, except for Maguire, who wore black and white -- took the stage with confidence.

    "Hello, Detroit! What better place to start our tour?" Maines said, greeting the audience after a run-through of the popular revenge fantasy "Goodbye Earl." "We're excited," she said, pausing for a few seconds to soak up the applause. "I forgot what this feels like."

    Maines slipped a quick reference to the fallout from her comments -- or "The Incident," as its come to be known in the Chicks' universe -- while introducing the gentle, tender "Lullaby."

    Maines explained it was the last song they wrote for the new album, and said during the record's recording they had a hard time writing love songs. "I'm not sure if you know, but we were mad as hell," Maines said.

    The evening's most stirring moment came an hour into the show, during "Not Ready to Make Nice," the angriest song on their new album and the fiercest song they've ever written.

    When Maines sang, "It turned my whole world around -- and I kind of like it" -- again, a reference to The Incident -- it was met with hearty cheers from the crowd.

    But when Maines clenched her fists and beat them against her chest during the song's emotional climax, the audience's appreciative cheers grew to rapturous rallying cries of support.

    If only Maines and her bandmates would have been that passionate the entire show.

    Too often, the Chicks stood still at their microphones, their lack of stage presence a glaring contradiction to the emotional highs in their music. They loosened up show's end, however; chalk up the stiffness to first night nerves.

    Maines' voice was in fine form throughout the 23-song show, which included a three song encore and closed with "I Hope," a song written for the victims of Hurricane Katrina which is almost gospel in its execution.

    Review: Dixie Chicks show why they're among country's best

    By Peter Cooper, the Tennessean

    For a moment, let's forget the issues that land the Dixie Chicks on network newscasts and magazines that don't purport to be about music.

    Let's forget the questions of whether musicians should criticize politicians, or whether politicians should criticize musicians.

    Let's stop worrying about whether contemporary country radio will ever again embrace the Dixie Chicks.

    Let's forget Natalie Maines' comments about how the "stereotypes" about country music are true, and let's stop asking whether those comments seem to implicate some of the very people — Emmylou Harris, Marcus Hummon, Radney Foster, etc. — who have stood by the Chicks through their three-year ordeal and who have assisted the Chicks in building a body of work that allowed them to become superstars.

    And let's just consider the music.

    Specifically, let's just consider the music made on Friday, July 21, 2006, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

    And let's go ahead and get to the heart of the matter and admit that the Chicks are, by far, the best and most entertaining band in country music, whether or not they want to or are allowed to call themselves country musicians.

    On the first night of the Chicks' North American tour, called the "Accidents and Accusations Tour," after a lyric in new song "Easy Silence," the Chicks delivered a 23-song set marked by Natalie Maines' strong lead vocals, Martie Maguire's fiddle and harmony vocal virtuosity and Emily Robison's complimentary multi-instrumental prowess.

    "You don't like the sound of the truth, comin' from my mouth," Maines sang on the Patty Griffin-penned "Truth No. 2," drawing an instant standing ovation for a line that played to the audience's full-on support for Maines after Maines' 2003 comments about President George W. Bush that found the Chicks excised from country radio. Griffin's song was written before all of that, though, and leaving aside the rightness or wrongness of Maines' politics and perspective, the lead singers' voice did sound for all the world like the hard, strong truth.

    Though the politically minded lines drew the strongest applause, the Chicks' finest moments in Detroit came when Maines and her cohorts allowed fragility to creep into the equation. Another Griffin tune, "Top of the World," proved a heartbreaker, with Maines' voice conveying significant depth of emotion as she sang, "There's a whole lot of singing never gonna be heard/ Disappearing every day without so much as a word."

    And that, in a nutshell, is the tragedy of the Dixie Chicks. Maines' sings her behind off, Maguire is a tremendous vocalist and instrumentalist and Robison's instrumental prowess and harmony vocals provide the pillow on which everything else rests. The new band of supporting musicians is a remarkable unit, full of stomp and swagger and twang. And yet the Dixie Chicks have become a nonentity, a target or a thorn to those who disagree with their politics.

    In Detroit, the politics fell away and the songs reigned supreme. And during the show, it felt just like great music. And after the show, when the questions and context returned, it felt like a shame. There's a whole lot of singing here that should be heard. They heard it in Detroit, and they cheered wildly. In Nashville, we're still shouting too loudly to listen.

    Dixie Chicks let music do the talking at tour opener

    By Gary Graff, Oakland Press

    DETROIT - Just because the Dixie Chicks didn't say much doesn't mean they didn't have much to say when they opened their Accidents & Accusations tour Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.

    With the controversy of their outspoken political views still weighing on the Texas trio's career, the group kept its comments - of any kind - to a minimum during the nearly two-hour, 23-song show. They entered with irony as "Hail to the Chief" played on the P.A., while lead singer Natalie Maines - who set off the firestorm with a March 2003 comment that she was ashamed to be from the same state as President George W. Bush - acknowledged that the Chicks "were mad as hell" when they wrote the songs for their new album, the edgy and double-platinum "Taking the Long Way."

    Mostly, though, the Chicks let the music do the talking, and in doing so reminded its fans, who filled about two-thirds of the arena on Friday, that they're still one of the best live acts working in any genre thanks to a tightly performed and dynamically crafted concert that revealed only the slightest bit of first-night stiffness.

    The Chicks and their nine-piece band of Nashville heavyweights came out swinging - and rocking - with "Lubbock or Leave It," with its lyrical acknowledgment that "I hear they hate me now." "Truth No. 2," "Taking the Long Way," "Easy Silence" and "Travelin' Soldier" continued the evening's defiant theme, and even the group's richly arranged rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" ("Can I sail through the changing ocean tides/Can I handle the seasons of my life") took on a deeper resonance in this context.

    One fan who held up an anti-Bush sign before the show was escorted out by security, but it was clear that the vast majority of that remained was on the Chicks' side, too, when an inspired delivery of the single "Not Ready to Make Nice" - the group's reflection on its recent experiences - drew the strongest sustained ovation. The soul-flavored "I Hope," meanwhile, put a prayerful cap on the evening at the end of the encores.

    But it was not all sober and serious. The Chicks kicked up their heels on spirited versions of "Goodbye Earl," "I Like It," "White Trash Wedding," the bluegrass instrumental "Lil' Jack Slade" (a showcase for Marti Maguire's fiddling and Emily Robison's banjo playing) "Long Time Gone," "Sin Wagon" and "Mississippi," as well as on a buoyant performance of the signature hit "Wide Open Spaces." Maines' forceful vocal on "Top of the World" was another highlight, while "Ready to Run" was treated with a grittier rock edge.

    Prior to the gentle "Lullabye," Maines jabbed at "anyone who tries to say we are turning into a rock band." The truth is that the Chicks perch, boldly and sometimes precariously, on a wire that crosses a number of different styles, and on Friday they handled all of them with an accomplished balance of precision and passion.

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