For country Chicks, these gals really rock
By Allan Wigney for the
“Oh boy,” an excited youngster exclaimed as he sprinted from the elevator, anxious
to reach one of thousands of lonely Scotiabank Place seats. “A real rock show!”
rock, son,” Dad helpfully chided. “This is country.”
Both were referring to Friday’s Dixie
Chicks concert, an occasion that promised high energy, screams from a cult-like following, we’re-not-gonna-take-it aggression
and an overall atmosphere of anti-establishment subversion.
Let’s say they were both right.
In fact, a
taste of each rock-show element was offered the moment likeable opening-act The Damwells left the stage Friday (and 30 minutes
before The Dixie Chicks cheekily took the stage to the strains of Hail to the Chief). A screen above the stage beamed a conservationist
message (to an enthusiastic response from concert-goers who were presumably saving those empty drink cups to place in their
recycling bins at home later), and a trailer for Shut Up & Sing, the documentary now making the rounds of America’s
Eight years ago, when sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison celebrated their 10th years as Dixie
Chicks with a mega-selling album called Wide Open Spaces, bringing their radio-friendly young country sounds to arthouses
must have seemed as unlikely as, oh, being on the receiving end of death threats over perceived unpatriotic sentiments.
changed three years ago with what is now referred to in the trio’s camp as ‘the Incident’: to wit, third
Chick Natalie Maines’ onstage declaration that, “We’re ashamed the President of the United States is from
Texas.” That, too, drew enthusiastic applause from the audience (albeit a British audience) at the time. As it did last
night, when heard during the Shut Up & Sing trailer.
And so, somewhat accidentally, The Dixie Chicks became the
most unlikely of counterculture heroines – something that did not and does not sit well with certain God-fearing folk
in the land of the free. (The group’s North American tour reached Capital City last night as part of a stepped-up string
of Canadian dates designed to offset cancelled American bookings.) Any continuing backlash, significantly, could not stop
the trio’s latest album, the Rick Rubin-produced Taking the Long Way Home, from heading straight to the top of the country
charts, as had all Dixie Chicks albums since Wide Open Spaces.
Last night, the area’s faithful greeted a bloodied-but-unbowed,
bold new Dixie Chicks. Women who still primp and pout for photographers, and whose music remains ill-suited to the ‘alternative’
crowd, but who wear their newfound outlaw status proudly. And stylishly (in a Bangles sort of way).
No more so than
when belting out the post-Incident mission-statement Not Ready to Make Nice, from the new album. “I made my bed, and
I sleep like a baby,” Maines sang with a sly smile. “It turned my whole world around / And I kinda like it.”
number, which as our young boy no doubt informed Dad, is very much a rock song, seemed a long way from the carefree rootsy
country sound of The Dixie Chicks’ 1990 debut album, Thank Heavens for Dale Evans. But it reflects a world-weary attitude
tempered by road-tested confidence that enables these Chicks to present a misty-eyed cover of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide
with the same conviction as the assertive tale of escaping an abusive relationship, Goodbye Earl.
Both sides, tender
and tough, were well-represented Friday (all three are proud moms, after all), as the Chicks presented a fine-tuned two-hour
show chock-full of disarming harmonies and abetted by a seasoned eight-piece backing band. “We are very happy to be
back in Canada,” Maines said. And for once, you knew the comment was sincere.
And while the harmonies rang, the
sisters flaunted their considerable musical skills – Maguire on fiddle, Robison alternating between banjo and mandolin,
and lead vocalist Maines, when not offering a taste of the sort of dancing we’ll be seeing onstage at next month’s
Guns 'n Roses show, on guitar.
The new album provided the bulk of the material, with the title track and the lovely
Lullaby serving as standouts. The remainder of the set was essentially split between the two preceding albums, Home and Fly,
the greatest response from the crowd coming with the arrival of White Trash Wedding. (Maines dedicated the rollicking song
to Kid Rock and Canada’s own Pamela Anderson. During the trio’s Australian tour, she informed us, the tune went
out to Mel Gibson.)
A choice cover of Bob Dylan’s Mississippi was a pleasant encore surprise. The pre-Home Dixie
Chicks, meanwhile, were represented by a single selection ‑ Wide Open Spaces, a seminal song that must now seem to this
trio to hail from another lifetime.
Which, of course, it does. It hails from a time when a Dixie Chicks concert was
unlikely to be mistaken for a real rock show.
REVIEW: The Dixie Chicks w/ The Damwells