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Dixie Chicks at MSG

by Glenn Gamboa, Newsday Staff Writer

The bulk of the Dixie Chicks' "Accidents and Accusations Tour" is wrapped in defiance -- raised fists, stomping feet and not-so-subtle references to "The Incident," in which singer Natalie Maines declared her embarrassment that President George W. Bush was from Texas, during the march to the Iraqi war in 2003.

That's not a bad thing, necessarily. The Chicks -- Maines and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison -- are still rightfully riled about being demonized and the targets of death threats for simply speaking their minds. And, generally, their fiery performances benefit from that anger.
But there were times during the band's 110-minute set at Madison Square Garden when it became painfully clear how much better off they will be if, or when, they let all that anger go.

"Once we had gotten all that mad-as-hell stuff out of our system, we were able to write about being good, loving mothers," Maines said, as she introduced the gorgeous "Lullaby." The song, from the new "Taking the Long Way" (Open Wide/Sony) album, is stirring in its simplicity. And the way Maines delivers the poignant chorus -- "How long do you wanna be loved? Is forever enough?" -- shows why she is seen as one of the best singers around.

When the Chicks and their first-rate, nine-member band get going on the good-time song "I Like It," with its '70s SoCal, laid-back blues-rock feel and vocals that sound like Bonnie Raitt backed by "Just One Look"-era Linda Ronstadts, it's hard to imagine how country radio could possibly ignore them. When they rev up "Sin Wagon" or the rock-oriented version of "Ready to Run," which now sports a bigger backbeat and some raucous guitar solos, it's hard to understand how they can still be so maligned.

Nevertheless, the Dixie Chicks still face lots of haters. And they are still ready to rumble.

They entered the stage to a countrified "Hail to the Chief." Maines dedicated "White Trash Wedding" to admitted spewer of anti-Semitic slurs, but self-proclaimed "not a bigot" Mel Gibson, jokingly buying his excuse, "You know how it is when you get drunk?" and adding, "All our controversies would have been over if I checked myself into rehab and said that I was drunk and didn't know what I was saying."

To top it all off, they performed their defiant single "Not Ready To Make Nice" magnificently. Hundreds in the audience held up signs that said, "Thank You," and thousands more offered the loudest ovation The Garden has heard in some time in the pause after Maines sings the part about being threatened to "Shut up and sing" or her life would be over.

The Chicks' emotional reaction to the ovation showed they haven't moved past all that anger just yet. Hopefully, they will.

MSG whistlin' Dixie!

by Jim Farber, New York Daily News

In parts of this country, some people want to run the Dixie Chicks out of town on a rail. But in New York, the group could run for office and win in a landslide.

At their concert at Madison Square Garden last night, the Chicks' performance had the impact of a political rally. Yet the group has had to cancel dates in such twangy mainstays as Houston, Memphis and Oklahoma City - all as part of the continued fallout from singer Natalie Maines' famous line from 2003 about being ashamed to come from the same state as President Bush.

It didn't help matters that fiddle player Martie Maguire recently told Time magazine that the group would rather forgo your typical Toby Keith fan in favor of "a small following of cool people who get it."

Last night's crowd definitely got it. And the Chicks gave them many pointed chances to show it. They took the stage to the sarcastic strains of "Hail to the Chief," eliciting knowing giggles, then went straight into "Lubbock or Leave It," which addresses small-town intolerance.

Later, they announced, with full irony, that the new song "Taking the Long Way Around" describes "how we make the excellent career decisions we make."

As crowd-pleasing gestures go, these hit the mark squarely. While they could have seemed smug delivered in this, the bluest of blue states, instead they wound up giving the group an extra edge they could use.

In the past, some of the Chicks' slicker country-rock has had more decorative appeal than depth. But recent events seem to have given them more grounding and context, especially live. Last night's show combined both the fine craft of their best songs with an extra dash of purpose and consequence.

Maines' heavier vocal on Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" showed a new awareness of both the toll of time and the character it can bring. She imbued "Wide Open Spaces" with a more urgent sense of yearning.

While the concert, like the band's new CD, gives stingier play to Maguire's fiddle work, and Emily Robison's banjo, the two had a few choice showcases here, including several in "White Trash Wedding," which the group wryly dedicated to Mel Gibson.

That's typical of the humor that has helped make the group's amped-up politics go down easy.

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