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photo by Kelly West / American-Statesman

Dixie Chicks Rock Away From Roots
By Joe Gross for the Austin American Statesman 

In the aftermath of Natalie Maines' 2003 comment about President Bush, with the death threats, the country-radio boycotts, the career rejiggering and the documentary, while everybody was looking, the Dixie Chicks pretty much turned into a rock band.

The seven-to-nine piece band. The electric guitar solos, rock solid bass lines and pounding drums. Emily Robison's sharp banjo sound, smeared into something heavy and droning thanks to the Erwin Center's gnarly acoustics. Yep — rock band.

Sometime Chicks co-songwriter Pete Yorn played an opening set of guitar pop that took the word "inoffensive" to new, previously unexplored heights. Though he mentioned New Jersey roots, Yorn's singer-songwriter tunes are a strain of Los Angeles mellow that just refuses to die. He will be at "Anton's," as he put it, on Dec. 13.

Walking onto an almost bare set — in sharp contrast to the in-the-round, big-set production of their '03 tour — to strains of "Hail to the Chief," the Dixie Chicks (or "DCX 2006," as the $35 tour T-shirts put it) announced their new-fangled devotion to arena-rock tones with driving, almost explosive arrangements of "Lubbock or Leave It," "Truth No. 2" and the fan-favorite "Goodbye Earl." Goodbye, country radio.

After some cracks about not wearing panties until the war is over ("Unfortunately, so is Britney Spears.") Maines and the other Chicks dove into the catalog, with tight takes on "The Long Way Around," the Fleetwood Mac chestnut "Landslide" and "Everybody Knows." New song "The Neighbor" (about that "short, annoying, blonde neighbor that just won't go away") was followed by "Cowboy Take Me Away," "Lullaby" and "White Trash Wedding," at one time dedicated "to K-Fed," meaning former Spears husband Kevin Federline.

The emotional highlight was easily "Not Ready To Make Nice," a cathartic moment they couldn't help but milk a little. The 19-song set was followed by a short encore that pointed up everything wonderful and vaguely disappointing about DCX 2006. Just the three Chicks returned to the stage for "Travelin' Soldier." It was spare, intense and a perfect capper. Except the rest of the band came back for more, including Sheryl Crow's showbizzy version of Bob Dylan's "Mississippi." Some days you gotta dance, I guess.
Dixie Chicks make musical statement

by Hector Saldaņa for the Express-News

AUSTIN – At a concert that held out the possibility for political controversy and drama, the Dixie Chicks instead chose mischief, humor and musical majesty to make their statement at Frank Erwin Center on Monday.
They sang beautifully, but they certainly didn’t shut up. And they aren’t ready to make nice, either.

The Chicks -- Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire -- and their nine-piece backing band took the stage as “Hail to the Chief” played through the sound system.

The joke, a sly swipe (and perhaps even a bit of myth building, middle finger salute) aimed at those that wounded them because of Maines’ anti-Bush comments, was not lost on the rowdy, supportive audience that numbered about 8,000 strong.

In fact they cheered louder anytime Maines and company veered remotely toward the political in songs like the new “Not Ready to Make Nice,” “The Long Way Around” and unrepentant opening number, “Lubbock or Leave It.”

One fan held up a homemade sign that read: DIXIE CHICKS = PATRIOTS.

But between songs, Maines seemed more interested in celebrity gossip about Britney Spears’ recent panty-less outing with Paris Hilton, than overtly knocking a president she considers a pantywaist.

“I see you’re not wearing panties until the war is over. Same here, and evidently so is Britney Spears,” Maines said to a female fan toward the front of the stage. Then the brash singer offered some advice to the former teen queen about straightening up her act.

“Rule No. 1: Don’t make Paris Hilton your chaperone,” Maines said. She later jokingly claimed that Spears’ outrageous antics had “changed my world” and were forcing her to consider joining Team Federline.

In her own defense, Spears’ snappy comeback to Maines might go like this: “The ‘80s called and they want their costume back.” Indeed, Maines was a fashion disaster, looking as if she stepped out of “The Breakfast Club.” Everything else worked.

Of course, the Dixie Chicks have always been talented divas willing to get a little trashy and have a whole lot of fun. Such was the case on “Goodbye Earl.”

It’s easy to forget that the Chicks’ glee while singing “Earl’s” lyrics of murderous, premeditated retribution (and the accompanying music video) was once the extent of any controversy they generated.

How sad it is that they are so hated in some political circles because the Chicks’ music, especially tracks off their latest album, “Taking the Long Way,” speaks to and from the heart. But so did old songs like “Wide Open Spaces.” Tellingly, they chose to open their encore, alone and unadorned, with “Travelin’ Soldier,” performed so quietly and gently it urged one to listen. Perhaps it’s time to listen again – whether inside or outside the room.

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