Dallas, TX 2003

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Shameless Chicks Put On Bold Show

By Mario Tarradell /
The Dallas Morning News

The Dixie Chicks just get better and bolder.

Before a cheering sold-out audience Sunday night at American Airlines Center, the Dallas-bred trio - lead singer Natalie Maines, fiddle player Martie Maguire and banjo picker Emily Robison - delivered a musically accomplished and vocally rich set that touched on all three major-label albums, 1998's Wide Open Spaces, 1999's Fly and 2002's Home.

The best material came from Home, a stripped-down return to bluegrass recorded at Austin's Cedar Creek Studio. Their take on Radney Foster's "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)" was stunningly beautiful, accentuated by a cello and laced with Ms. Maines' quiet, expressive performance. The one-two punch of "White Trash Wedding" and "Lil' Jack Slade" was a wildly spirited hoedown. "Long Time Gone" had all the sass and spark of the recorded version. And then came "Truth No. 2." The Chicks used the song to address the "incident" as Ms. Maines coyly referred to her anti-Bush remarks to a London concert crowd in March. But it wasn't so much what she said to introduce the song as what we saw on those video screens.

While the group's harmonies soared and the banjo, fiddle and a slew of other acoustic instruments cranked out the rhythms, the video screens above showed daring scenes of peace rallies, gay-rights gatherings, the Million Man March, slogans to keep abortion and birth control legal and even feet stomping on Dixie Chicks CDs. The message? It's all about freedom and inalienable rights, as opposed to oppression and censorship.

These women have chutzpah. While they may ruffle many feathers and pay the price (country and radio boycotting their music, plummeting record sales, death threats), they hold steadfast to their convictions.

One of them is making great music, as they did at every turn on an in-the-round stage. "Goodbye Earl" opened the gig, and it immediately energized the venue. Other highlights included "Hello Mr. Heartache," which remains a killer shuffle, and their cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," enhanced with a string section and an array of colorful sunflowers that sprouted from the edge of the platform.

Yet the best moment of the evening was "Travelin' Soldier." With Ms. Robison on dobro and Ms. Maguire's fiddle weeping in the background, Ms. Maines sang the tune in hushed, melancholy tones. It was so solemn and lovely; especially the subdued marching drum beat at the end.

Opening act Michelle Branch showed promise during her 35-minute show. Her brand of rock-fueled pop is catchy and crunchy enough to stay in your head. Hits such as "Everywhere," "All You Wanted" and the new single "Are You Happy Now?" proved she has spunk and writing chops. All she needs is more stage seasoning.

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