Natalie Maines provided the piercing, combative vocals. Emily Robinson was there keeping it real on the banjo. And Martie Maguire was looking stunning and cutting it up on fiddle and mandolin.
The rock boys have nothing on this band when it comes to defiance. They opened with Lubbock or Leave It, a song that delivers a devastating punch to the gut of religious hypocrisy and small-town bigotry. The anger here is real and the research first-hand. You simply can't imagine Maines going back home after hearing her call it "hell's half acre'' and a "fool's paradise.'' The scorched earth continues with "On the strip the kids get lit so they can have a real good time. Come Sunday they can just take their pick from the crucifix skyline.'' Give Maines credit for guts. It's hard to think of a man alive in country music with the nerve to take the knife to the heartland like that.
The show was cleverly designed to cover both the newer, personal and sometimes rockier songs while paying homage to the traditional ones that got them there. Hence Truth #2 in the second spot. And, later, a faithful, lovely rendering of Cowboy Take Me Away. Lest things got too mooney, there were the rip-roaring Long Time Gone and Gotta Dance. Getting even deeper into the rock was a very exciting brand-new one called The Neighbor, which had the already active drummer Sebastian Steinberg working double-time.
Not ones to beat around the Bush, they also got to Not Ready To Make Nice, inspired by the backlash of "the incident.'' (Something to do with saying something unflattering about their president.) The song speaks for itself. It has to. Ironically, these champions of free speech have maintained a media blackout, refusing interviews from coast to coast. They're no doubt sick and tired of "it.'' But a remarkable moment occurred at the end of the song. The applause wouldn't die down, and it triggered a standing, foot-stomping ovation -- the equivalent of a huge hug of affirmation.
Up to then, the crowd was surprisingly restrained -- not quiet, but not leaping to their feet at every opportunity. Even an early barn-burner like Goodbye Earl got mainly just the floor-level folk upright.
Even so, this was the biggest girls' night out of the fall. The majority of the Chicks' fan base is female, and it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out why. They're sexy, they're talented, they're defiant, they're rich and they're famous. Besides, when times get tough, sisters stick together. If your sorority consists of half the population of the free world, that's a lot of shoulders to cry on.
The backup band is a nine-member all-star line-up of pros featuring three guitar players and even a cello (for songs like Easy Silence) and extra violin. Staging was clean and modern, with six corrugated screens at the back reflecting video and effects -- a trees-through-the-car-sunroof look to add mood to Everybody Knows, for instance.
It was bit of a relief to get a straight-ahead concert rather than a Democratic convention. And it's nice to see the Dixie Chicks have reconsidered the value of small markets like ours, if only because they're being shunned back home in the land of the free. Maybe they'll remember who supported them when the next tour comes around.