Atlantic City, NJ 2006

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Chicks ‘Fly' in Borgata show
ATLANTIC CITY — The southern states may not want the Dixie Chicks, but Atlantic City will take them in.

The three-woman country group has had trouble filling concert venues, particularly in the Southern states, since lead singer Natalie Maines claimed to be ashamed that President Bush is from Texas during a London concert in 2003. But getting people in the seats at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa Event Center Saturday night wasn't a problem.

Fans dressed in jeans and sporting cowboy boots and straw hats packed into the venue both on the floor and in the elevated seating toward the back. This was a crowd that was ready to see the new and improved Dixie Chicks.

In the years since the London incident, the Dixie Chicks, still the highest selling female group in any genre, tangled with miffed country music producers, radio disc jockeys and fans over their views of the current government. Their politically charged 2006 CD “Taking the Long Way” introduces a tougher, more defiant group of Chicks with little of the down-home, country feeling that made the group famous.

On Saturday night, Maines and bandmates Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson were very definite about their split from mainstream country to embrace a more rock 'n' roll, anti-establishment genre.

Maines referred to singles from the Chicks' pre-controversy albums — “Wide Open Spaces” (1998), “Fly” (1999) and “Home” (2002) — briefly as “songs from the past,” as if to say “Enjoy them, because we don't write that way anymore.” The group catered to longtime fans with “Sin Wagon,” “Long Time Gone,” and the cover of Stevie Nicks' “Landslide.”

It was easy to recognize the new stuff, even for those who hadn't heard anything from “Taking the Long Way.” Robinson traded in her customary banjo for a guitar for these songs, symbolically trading in country for rock. But the crowd didn't seem to mind. They sang along with “Everybody Knows,” “Easy Silence” and the CD's title track “Taking the Long Way.”

At the end of “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the Chicks' controversial, anger-ridden single that lets the world know they aren't going to forget their detractors anytime soon, the crowd gave the group its first of three standing ovations that it would receive over the course of the night.

But all controversy aside, these girls can sing.

With Maines in the lead, the three women harmonized perfectly, particularly during their encore when they sang the haunting ballad “Travelin' Soldier.” Maguire outshone the other two instrumentally, whether she had a fiddle under her chin or was plucking the strings of a mandolin.

As for the trouble-starting Maines, she decided Saturday was a night for fun, not politics. She got the crowd involved in a bet she had with Robinson, who promised $100 if Maines could say “Borgata” 10 times while on stage. Maines won.

But despite their new and improved image, the Chicks couldn't help but launch into some bluegrass toward the end of their set with “White Trash Wedding,” their ode to the redneck. What followed could only be described as a bluegrass breakdown as Maines left the stage to Maguire on the fiddle and Robinson on the banjo.

Perhaps the country's not completely out of these Chicks yet.

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