Pittsburgh, PA 2003

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No Debate -- Dixie Chicks Give Great Show At Arena

By John Hayes

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Despite their public disdain for controversy, the Dixie Chicks seem to revel in the attention. At Saturday's concert at Mellon Arena, their first here since singer Natalie Maines sparked a firestorm of debate by publicly dissing the president, they continued to stir up the dirt.

Wearing a micro minidress with a bold, white peace sign, Maines said: "I don't know if anyone here heard about the ordeal we got into about three months ago," She made quotation marks with her fingers around the word "ordeal.".

The spontaneous chorus of boos that erupted from the crowd was overwhelming and lasted long enough to prompt the lighting engineer to raise the house lights. Maines laughed.

"I don't know if you're booing because you're mad or because of what happened to us," she said. "Either way, you're here and we welcome you."

Public outrage over Maines' criticism of President Bush, much of it from the Chicks' fans and the country music industry, has inspired the group to become involved with Rock the Vote, a voter registration organization that targets young voters.

"We want young people to get to have a voice," said Maines, "to get to say who's in office."

Although the capacity crowd may have expected something along those lines, that's not what they came to see. They came for a show, and the Dixie Chicks put on a polished and professional one that spotlighted their apparent desire to lead country music to its next frontier. Maines, fiddler Martie Maguire and banjo player Emily Robison showed up in black and white neo-punk regalia festooned with pins, zippers and chains. Some of the poppier songs from their three albums were performed with traditional instruments front and center in the mix. And it was apparent that things have changed when 17,000 fans leapt to their feet and clapped along with a hardcore bluegrass breakdown.

The Chicks performed with eight backing musicians and a string section, in the round on a complex, multi-level stage with elevator risers, center scrims, confetti and banner blasters, runways stretching to the crowd, TVs, Jumbotrons and two standing-room-only pits filled with adoring supporters. The configuration allowed more people to attend but limited their unimpeded view to about a quarter of the show. No matter where they were seated, throughout most of the concert fans watched slickly produced TV images of what was happening out of their direct line of sight.

A decidedly feminine squeal erupted when the Chicks opened with their macabre, comic hit "Goodbye Earl." They followed with three back-to-back tunes from their top-selling "Home" album: Darrell Scott's "Long Time Gone," the bluegrass group effort "Tortured, Tangled Hearts" and Bruce Robinson's "Travelin' Soldier," a sentimental hit that was dropped by some country stations during the "ordeal." Mandolinist Brent Truitt picked a nice lead on "Hello, Mr. Heartache," an old-school country tune from the Chicks' "Fly" album. The audience joined in on hand rhythm on the bouncy bluegrass rollick, "White Trash Wedding."

During more than 100 minutes on stage, the Dixie Chicks offered studio-sounding versions of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" and Radney Foster's "Godspeed," premiered their upcoming video of Patty Griffin's "Top of the World," and threw in a Dylan cover for good measure.

In another sign that country music is changing from the top down, the Chicks chose rock 'n' soul singer Joan Osborne to open the first half of their U.S. tour. Osborne ended her part of the tour in Pittsburgh. She joined the Chicks on stage on "Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)" and opened the concert with seven songs, spotlighting her rich voice and tunes from her new disc "How Sweet it Is."

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