Unrepentant Chicks glory in their crossover appeal
Matt Connors, The Australian
COUNTRY music is a lot like coffee; there are endless ways to enjoy it, but how you take
your cup of Joe is a matter of taste. My order? A couple of times a week, always from an independent outfit, unadorned and
close to the source -- more your Gillian Welch, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Son Volt variety than the instant gratification
of commercial country.
Yet these days it's hard not to admire the Dixie Chicks, truly the Starbucks of the country world. From humble
beginnings, they spread like wildfire, with plenty of pop appeal outside their country roots.
Since 2003, when they spoke out against US President George W. Bush, the Dixie Chicks have endured a Starbucks-style
Traditional fans smashed their CDs in the street, country radio blacklisted their music and they've been crucified
for expressing an opinion and not backing down.
So much for the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
In what they now refer to as "the incident", the Dixie Chicks found their soul, and they're all the better
As well as informing their latest album, Taking the Long Way, their anti-Bush stance delivered some of the
finest moments of the debut show on their Australian tour. They were ushered on stage in cheeky fashion to the strains of
Hail to the Chief and tore into Lubbock or Leave It, a song sure to infuriate rednecked former fans.
Later, singer Natalie Maines teasingly joked about not wanting to piss off their Australian fans or they'd
have nowhere left to tour.
Strident single Not Ready to Make Nice was a resounding highlight that brought the crowd to its feet and exposed
the group's unwillingness to back down in the face of controversy.
It dripped with honesty and heart as Maines sang: "It turned my whole world around and I kind of like it/
I made by bed, and I sleep like a baby."
New tracks So Hard and The Long Way Around resonated with similar emotion, but plenty of the Dixie Chicks
of old remains. Girl power anthem Goodbye Earl, back-porch stomper Sin Wagon, rocker Long Time Gone and Ready to Run were
rich in country motifs, with the fiddle of Martie Maguire and banjo of Emily Robison front and centre. Elsewhere, Lullaby
and Stevie Nicks's Landslide showcased Maines's vocals in style, as well as the trio's harmonies.
The Dixie Chicks have always been slick performers, but now speak with a greater sense of purpose. And at
a time when US political institutions appear more bankrupt than ever, it's fitting three cowgirls from Texas should be pin-up
girls for free speech.