Columbus, OH 2006
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photo by Adam Cairns / Columbus Dispatch

Dixie Chicks delight fans at Value City
Lead singer Maines is magic

The Dixie Chicks' political views may have cost the trio bookings in other cities, but their reception in Columbus was more than welcoming. At a well-attended concert at the Value City Arena Sunday night, nearly every song was greeted with whoops and sustained applause.

"We've been strategizing, and tonight I've decided what to do," joked lead singer Natalie Maines. "Every city that nobody buys tickets in, we're going to fill that in by coming back here."

The Chicks' views on politics and the war in Iraq may have formed a subtext for the concert, but this was no evening of protest songs. Whatever the opposite of flag-waving is, it wasn't going on here.

Instead, in a long, high-energy set, the Chicks looped together songs from their most recent album, Taking the Long Way, and their older ones. Dressed in punkish black, and backed by eight other musicians, they for the most part arranged themselves as far apart as possible on the front of the stage, with Maines taking the center position. The concert's pyrotechnics were musical rather than visual.

In concert more than on their albums, Maines dominated the musical field. Though the other two provided harmonies, their voices were less distinctive than hers and their faces less expressive.

Particularly in the songs from the new album, the concert was all about Maines, with occasional contributions from the other two. Earlier songs allowed for more equitable distribution of the musical wealth: On the exuberant Some Days You Gotta Dance and the boisterous Sin Wagon, all three cut loose, as did the other musicians, and a lush Landslide allowed for rich harmonies. Martie Maguire proved an audience favorite whenever she took off on the fiddle, and while Emily Robison didn't have as many showy passages on banjo, she did some breathtakingly intricate work.

But even on the older material, Maines was the glue holding the group together. Her twangy, sometimes girlish voice isn't conventionally pretty, and the sound system didn't allow all her words to be fully articulated, but she moved with admirable ease from scornful defiance to unsentimental sweetness to lighthearted dance fever and back again and again without ever straining or over-selling the material.

She brought irreverent spunk to the hit Goodbye Earl, to which the audience sung along with enthusiasm, and a feisty defiance to the concert-opening Lubbock or Leave It. But she downshifted with ease to quieter numbers: She gave So Hard and Lullaby, which as recorded border perilously on the precious, a bluesy sincerity that made them resonate. Her understated but sharp-edged version of Not Ready to Make Nice was more effective than a more dramatic one would have been.

The Chicks may have earned a certain amount of good will from the Columbus audience for taking a political stand, but the success of the concert depended more on their ability to integrate old and new, and to stretch their old format to let one member of the trio rise above the others.

Dixie Chicks take over Schottenstein Center

By Chip Midnight,

Save for the intro music that accompanied the Dixie Chicks as they took the Schottenstein Center stage (“Hail to the Chief”), there was no mention of the political controversy the trio caused in 2003 when lead singer Natalie Maines announced that she was ashamed to be from the same state as the President. And the near-capacity Columbus crowd couldn’t have cared less.

With a performance that rivaled a Bon Jovi show from the late ‘80s, the Dixie Chicks put politics aside on this evening to deliver a thoroughly entertaining two-hour, 23-song performance. Maines was clearly the star of the show, commandeering the stage despite being backed not only by the other two Chicks, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, but by the accompaniment of nine other musicians, including former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed. Though she may have been the shortest musician on stage, Maines nevertheless was the focal point and comes across as one of the most likeable, down-to-earth women in music today.

The Dixie Chicks ran through an arsenal of hits that span the trio’s last four albums and found the perfect meeting spot between mainstream pop-rock and Nashville-style country music which explains how they can manage to land on both charts simultaneously. This too explains why the crowd was a nice mix of cowboy-hat wearing folks and young urban professionals – the Dixie Chicks play the type of music that people from all walks of life can relate to.

Maines didn’t do much talking between songs, but when she did the audience responded with a deafening roar that got louder and louder each time she acknowledged the rabid fans. She commented that if she’d had known how wild the crowd was going to be, the Dixie Chicks would have started their tour in Columbus which, of course, led the crowd to respond with a cheer that is usually reserved for the last few seconds of a Buckeye Bowl Game victory.

The most non-country moment came halfway through the set when the Dixie Chicks performed their current single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” (co-written by Semisonic’s Dan Wilson) which is a reaction to the microscope the trio has been put under since speaking out against President Bush. As the song reached a frenzied climax it packed all the emotion and power of one of those smash radio hits that Aerosmith has been known for in the last 10 years.

While a majority of the set list was derived from the trio’s most recent release, 2006’s “Taking the Long Way,” Maines, Maguire, and Robison did kick back and cut loose with some plain ol’ fun numbers such as “Goodbye Earl,” “White Trash Wedding Ring,” and the barnyard stomper, “Sin Wagon.”

For the encore, the trio returned to the stage without the backing band and performed a stripped-down and quiet version of “Travelin’ Soldier” from 2002’s “Home”. The rest of the band returned for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi” and rounded out the evening with “I Hope,” the final track from the new record.

The cities that didn’t support the Dixie Chicks by buying tickets to upcoming shows – a handful of which have been cancelled due to poor ticket sales – missed out on a well-executed, tightly produced, entertaining show that broke down the wall between pop-rock and country music. And based on the love the trio received in Columbus, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them back here before the year is over.

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