Chicks show is long on talent, short on politics
By John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Whether you believe The Dixie Chicks are being blacklisted for their political views or merely shunned by a former audience
they alienated, three things are incontrovertible: About half the seats were empty at Saturday's Mellon Arena concert. Those
who showed up were wildly supportive of the band. And those who didn't missed a great show.
Despite reasonable concerns by some fans that the concert might turn into a political rally, the Chicks mostly let the
music do the talking during the second show of their Accidents & Accusations Tour.
The political jabs were few and benign. The backing band took the stage to the tracked strains of "Hail to the Chief,"
and when singer-guitarist Natalie Maines couldn't remember a word, she quipped, "I feel like the president. I can't think
of what to say."
The all-star studio band and celebrity co-writers who helped record the Chick's million-selling "Taking the Long Way" CD
didn't join them on the road.
Maines, guitar and banjo picker Emily Robison and fiddler Martie Maguire were backed by a solid nine-piece band, including
a small string section that added atmosphere to a few songs.
With Maines wielding an electric guitar, they ripped through their new "Lubbock or Leave It" and segued to Patty Griffin's
"Truth No. 2," which sparked a fire in the audience with the misinterpreted line, "You don't like the truth coming from my
Maines slung a bass over her shoulder for a long-time crowd pleaser, songwriter Dennis Linde's fun if murderous "Goodbye
Earl," and picked six- and 12-string acoustics on "The Long Way Around" and Stevie Nick's "Landslide."
The Chicks' "Everybody Knows" resonated beautifully on 48 strings from five guitars, bass and mandolin.
While the new CD advanced the group's progressive country sound farther down the pop-rock road, the concert took several
detours back to the dirt-road sounds of mainstream country and bluegrass.
Maines carried the mic on "Cowboy Take Me Away" and strummed an electric on "Wide Open Spaces," from the group's earlier
mainstream CDs. Robison and Maguire picked and sawed up a storm on the "Home" album breakdowns, "White Trash Wedding" and
"Lil' Jack Slade."
"If there's any question that we're turning into a rock band, I'd like to show you the Omnichord," said Maines, cradling
the electronic autoharp during the soothing "Lullaby." "It's not exactly a rock instrument. Once we got the mad-as-hell stuff
out of our system, we wrote this song.
"And in case you think that ticket sales were really slow and I couldn't afford a manicurist," she joked, spreading her
fingers, "my two-year-old painted my fingernails."
She clenched those fingers, however, punched at the air and beat her chest during the group's acidic single, "Not Ready
to Make Nice." The crowd roared as Maines screamed the line about getting a threatening letter.
"Anybody seeing us for the first time?" she asked, near the end of the show.
About half of the 8,500 ticket holders applauded.
No poll was necessary, however, to feel a different vibe among The Dixie Chicks' smaller new following. "Travelin' Soldier,"
which used to elicit a patriotic swell from the crowd, barely drew a smattering of applause.
They closed the two-hour performance with a sharp cover of Bob Dylan's "Mississippi" and the band's new gospel-tinged peace
anthem, "I Hope."
Sony recording artist Anna Nalick opened with a contagious half-hour of passionate indie-style rock songs from her major
label debut, "Wreck of the Day."
If the Chicks' choice of a support act sheds light on their musical direction, there was no hint of country -- progressive
or otherwise -- in Nalick's well-performed rock show.
About a dozen pro-Chicks protesters carried signs of support outside Mellon Arena. No activists opposed the group.