Denver,CO 2006
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Chicks still have a lot to say
Singer Maines doesn't dodge the banter that once meant trouble. But the Dixie Chicks offer plenty of musical highlights too.
By Ricardo Baca for the Denver Post
Leading up to the Dixie Chicks' Pepsi Center concert Monday night, singer Natalie Maines had been a regular Bill Maher from her bully pulpit via her liberal political commentary and smart pop-culture banter.

Instead of shying away from the opinionated back-and-forth that originally got her band in trouble three years ago with conservative country audiences, Maines has been specializing in the topical stand-up act.

And she had something good worked out for Denver - a funny set-up that included a call from Colorado Springs about a possible protest at the show.

"We welcome that," she said fairly before losing it at the punchline.

"It was probably Hubbard," she deadpanned.

And while the crowd laughed along, it's safe to assume Maines meant to say Haggard, as in Ted Haggard, the scandal-ridden minister from the Springs.

It was a rare off moment for Maines and her fellow Chicks, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, who, with the help of a massively talented band, presented a potent set that had the determined crowd on its feet, fists in the air.

The Chicks, all dressed in stilettos and thick eyeliner, weren't performing so much as they were driving a point home.

Sure, much of the older, sillier music drew out light smiles from the trio. But even during the fluffy ballad "Cowboy Take Me Away," Maines and her cohorts looked serious.

Dead serious.

And while it didn't fit the song's mood, it certainly represented the looming question in the air - the question regarding the Chicks' potency as a live music act in the wake of country music turning its back on them.

But the question was answered by a loud and surprisingly full Colorado crowd with a resounding "yes."

The reception was warm with the opening tracks "Lubbock or Leave It," "Truth No. 2" and "Goodbye Earl," representing a solid chunk of the Chicks' catalog, both new and old.

Two new tracks were especially powerful, the opinionated "The Long Way Around" and "Not Ready to Make Nice." Together, they were proof that the Chicks have a new, adoring home on AAA radio alongside Nickel Creek, the Indigo Girls and Sheryl Crow.

The misguided cover of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" was vocally overcooked but musically nuanced with strings, banjo, mandolin and a heavy kickdrum.

The group wrote "Neighbor" with Pete Yorn, who opened Monday's show, after seeing the first cut of "Shut Up & Sing," the documentary film on the Chicks' recent struggle for acceptance.

The song was a highlight, especially since it was the evening's newest material. And it went over as well as "White Trash Wedding," which Maines dedicated to Kevin Federline.

Maines, who noted before launching into "Wide Open Spaces" that 95 percent of her family vacations were in Colorado, got back into her stand-up groove during the encore.

Between a soulful "Travelin' Soldier" and a strong-willed Bob Dylan cover "Mississippi," she added: "If y'all are wondering why Martie and Emily don't talk, well, lemme tell you why. ... I said something once."

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