St. John, NB 2006

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Chicks Stick To The Hits
The Dixie Chicks crowd-pleasing two-hour set won over a 7,000-plus N.B. audience

by Grant Kerr, Telegraph Journal

If the Dixie Chicks were feeling any signs of fatigue after teetering on stage in spike heels for the past three weeks, they didn't show any signs during their stop in Saint John.

The Texas country trio, starting out with new tune Lubbock or Leave It and wrapping its encore with Ready to Run from 1999's 10-million selling Fly, played a solid two hours of hits and albums cuts.

But, as they have been on the other dates of this tour so far, they kept their political opinions to themselves Thursday night at Harbour Station.

The closest they came to rocking the Bush boat was when, early in the set, they brought out opening act Bob Schneider to sing a song they co-wrote with their fellow Texan.

"Since Canadians are such a nice, gracious audience, we want you to witness a bit of experimentation," singer Natalie Maines told the sold-out crowd. Schneider then took to the stage to sing lead on a mid-tempo rocker called Mr. bin Laden.

Drawing attention to the hypocrisy of the so-called War on Terror, Schneider and the Chicks sang about a conflict that is "between wrong and right, black and white."

The crowd of 7,000-plus Dixie Chicks fans didn't blink.

It's been a different story state-side where plenty of shows have been cancelled on this tour. Slow ticket sales were reported, particularly in the conservative south and midwest. But their Canadian fan base has stayed strong and dates have been added north of the 49th parallel. Fans here are unphased by Maines's infamous dissing of the American president three years ago that led to radio bans, protests and death threats.

The New Brunswick fans - they came from all over - screamed their approval for the group at every opportunity and even gave the trio a heart-felt standing ovation about a third of the way through the set when Maines began what sounded like a political statement.

"Since all the controversy, we have stayed much more informed," Maines said, drawing a thunderous ovation.

But it turned out to be a cheap segue into an anecdote about the recent wedding of Canadian Barbie Doll Pamela Anderson and rock ape Kid Rock. Perhaps Accidents and Accusations wasn't such a good thing to call the tour after all.

Well, the music was good anyway, if sometimes uninspired.

There were times, like during the monotonous Everybody Knows with its endless chorus, that I wish I was listening to some other band's music. Like St. Martins' Blacks Mountain/Shanklin Road, for instance. Now there's a group that can write a hook.

It's too bad the Dixie Chicks didn't spend more time dipping into its bluegrass roots, either. The highlight of the evening was an all-too brief double shot of bluegrass, including the hilarious barnstormer, White Trash Wedding, followed by a wild instrumental. It wasn't often that fellow Chicks Emily Robison (banjo) and Martie Maguire (fiddle) got to show off their considerable musical chops. (Maines dedicated the former song to the newlywed Pam-Kid combo). Their glossy pop-country stuff is fine, but the Chicks, and their back-up guys, are devastating when they let their hair down, musically.

But, hey, the Dixie Chicks have sold 28 million albums and have the top selling country album of all time in Wide Open Spaces.

By song three, the crowd was in the group's back pocket as it launched into the murderous number, Goodbye Earl, from that album's follow-up, Fly.

Maines was in great voice live, a welcome change from her often grating pipes on CD. She's got a powerful instrument, but her belting is about as a subtle as a bottle of Colt 45 over the head. Live, her penchant for oversinging wasn't apparent.

Maines, Robison and Maguire all looked fab and appeared to be in good spirits as they moved about the stage in front of their massive digital screen. Robison even went to the trouble of tapping a security guard on the shoulder to get him to lay off a pair of fans who were trying to swing into action during Some Days You Gotta Dance. Fans went nuts for uptempo tunes like Wide Open Spaces, Sin Wagon and the Dixie Chicks' current hit, I'm Not Ready to Make Nice (from the current Taking the Long Way). Maines sang I'm Not Ready with as much fire and conviction as if the "incident" had happened yesterday.

It's good that they're not ready to make nice. One just hopes they'll continue to take more chances musically, as they have politically. When they do, it's exhilarating stuff.

Fellow Texan Bob Schneider opened the show with an uneven set that showed plenty of potential. Mixing rock, country, salsa and Cajun he got the crowd going a bit with the boot shaker, Tarantula. Turning it up a notch, he showed some songwriting chops on the whimsical You Can Call Me Bob in which Batman and Robin are getting high in the Batmobile. Aretha Franklin's (You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman was a strong, strange, but fitting ending to his set, given the amount of estrogen that was in the air.

    Please take note of this before emailing me. I have no affiliation with the Dixie Chicks and/or their website, Court Yard Hounds and/or their website, Natalie Maines Music and/or her website, their management, publicists, record label or anyone else they may come in contact with on a regular basis. This is just a fan owned site. I do not have an email address for them. Your message cannot be passed on to them.
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