Phoenix, AZ 2006

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photos by Michael Chow for The Arizona Republic

Dixie Chicks give liberated performance in Glendale

by Larry Rodgers for The Arizona Republic
One thing has not changed about the Dixie Chicks since a 2003 onstage remark about President Bush alienated millions of their most conservative fans: This trio still puts on a fantastic live show.

With their unapologetic documentary film, “Shut Up & Sing,” playing next door at the new Westgate City Center in Glendale, the Dixie Chicks showed Sunday that they’ve got the fortitude and musical chops to carry on.
Lead singer Natalie Maines, who triggered the controversy when she told a London audience that “we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas,” was gracious and low-key as the group played at a half-full Arena.

She joked that the 19,000-capacity venue looked pretty full, but the entire sprawling upper level was curtained off, and there were some empty seat in the lower bowl.

But that didn’t dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic audience members, who had to pass through airport-style metal detectors to enter. (Maines has received death threats since her comment, which she repeated at the same London theater this year.)

A pre-show trailer for “Shut Up & Sing” received loud applause from the crowd, as did Maines, fiddle/mandolin player Martie Maguire and banjo/dobro player Emily Robison when they took the stage to “Hail to the Chief.”

The movie details how the Chicks have decided to shift away from country radio, and the show opener, “Lubbock or Leave It” (from this year’s “Taking the Long Way” album) was delivered with a rock edge. The next song, 2002’s “Truth No. 2,” was performed as a smooth rocker by the trio and its backing band, anchored by standout Americana guitarist David Grissom.

A large video curtain behind the stage flashed artsy imagery and gave the setting a rock feel.

Other songs from the strong new album, which is getting little play on mainstream country radio, also had rock and pop influences, including “Everybody Knows” and “The Long Way Around.” The new material was performed beautifully by the trio and its seven-piece band (which grew to nine at times when a cello and violinist were added). Maines’ soaring vocals were at the core.

Throughout the set, Maines kept her good humor. She dedicated “White Trash Wedding” to the soon-to-be former Mr. Britney Spears, Kevin Federline. She introduced a crisp version of “Taking the Long Way,” which talks about taking the road less-traveled, as focusing on “these fantastic career decisions.”

Maines, outfitted in a black skirt, dark stockings and heels, didn’t need to say anything as the group went into the defiant single, “Not Ready to Make Nice.” In the middle of the song, Maines nearly screamed as she recounted receiving a death threat in the mail from “a perfect stranger,” drawing a loud, supportive response from the crowd.

Despite the absence of the right-wing country crowd (which might benefit from a refresher course on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution), the Texas-spawned Dixie Chicks didn’t abandon their roots Sunday.

They sprinkled in a healthy dose of such countrified tunes as “Long Time Gone” (which laments the loss of traditional sounds in modern country, “Lil’ Jack Slade” (featuring a hot banjo and guitar jam) and the 1998 mega-hit, “Wide Open Spaces.” Maines said the third song “has yet to get old for me.”

Some of the most poignant moments came when Maines, Maguire and Robison took the spotlight for such acoustic-based numbers as “Lullabye” and “Easy Silence.”

The 2003 political controversy has brought headaches and lost revenue to the Dixie Chicks, but it also appears to have liberated them musically.

Fellow Texas player Bob Schneider opened with a good-natured set of rootsy rock. The highlight was a singalong for the Spanish-flavored “Tarantula.”

Schneider plays smaller venues in the Valley a few times a year. This talented singer-songwriter is worth a more extended listen the next time he comes through.

    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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