Louisville, KY 2003

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Photo by Nick Tomecek

Dixie Chicks Are Simply Extraordinary

The Courier-Journal


Well into the Dixie Chicks' sold-out concert at Freedom Hall last night, the group's lead singer, Natalie Maines, noticed a sign in the audience. It read, "Support President Bush and the troops."

"We usually don't like to talk about 'the incident,'" she said, using her fingers to frame the quotation marks in the air. Then she advised the sign holder to swab his ears with Q-tips and listen closely to her emphatic statement: "We support the troops. We support the troops. We support the troops."

Then, Maines launched into Patty Griffin's song "Truth No. 2," with its opening lyric, "You don't like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth." As she sang, a video screen showed images of past protests: suffragettes, abortion rights protesters seeking freedom of choice, civil rights protesters, gay and lesbian rights protesters. Images of folks like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Muhammad Ali streamed past, followed by images of angry crowds burning books and destroying rock records by groups like the Beatles.

And all the while, the crowd stood in enthusiastic support.

It was an extraordinary scene. Indeed, in the context of contemporary country music, which studiously avoids nuance or political commentary (apart from safe mom-and-apple pie patriotism) calling it extraordinary seems woefully inadequate.

If the Dixie Chicks have lost any support in the wake of the controversy over Maines' comment at a London concert that she was ashamed of President Bush, it was hard to see the signs last night. Indeed, the only boos were directed at local radio stations that have banned the Dixie Chicks' music.

But ultimately, the group's show had less to do with politics than with superb pacing, strong musicianship, and exemplary material. Maines delivered her songs with a frenzied punkish intensity. Fiddler Martie Maguire was superb both in sweet, sustained ballads and in blazing hoedowns. Her sister, banjo player Emily Robison, was equally adept. Accompanied by a cracker-jack ensemble, the Dixie Chicks offered a generous selection from their collection of hit albums, shifting easily from intimate ballads to shuffling, honky-tonk tear-jerkers, to feisty feminist ballads, to ferociously paced bluegrass anthems.

"Long Time Gone," (by Darrell Scott and Tim O'Brien) was a brisk bluegrass anthem with populist tendencies. "White Trash Wedding" with its punchline, "Say I do and kiss me quick, cause baby's on its way," was a blazing comic anthem. "Goodbye Earl," a tale of spouse abuse and a murderous batch of black-eyed peas, was a rollicking tale of justifiable revenge. Tunes like "Travelin' Soldier" and "Godspeed" were moving intimacies.

A brief opening set from Louisville native Joan Osborne proved that her bruised, soulful alto still has the compelling energy of a latter-day Janis Joplin.

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