San Jose, CA 2003

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Fans salute Chicks -- and they deliver

Mercury News

When Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines brought up ``the incident,'' gesturing the quotation marks with her fingers, she heard a handful of boos from a packed house at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on Tuesday night.

And she saw some 14,000 other people give a long, loud standing ovation, proving once again that the Bay Area is a lot further politically from Texas than it is geographically.

``That's too bad,'' she said of what she estimated to be four booing fans. ``It's weird. So many people support us, but we only sell like two albums a week.''

She was kidding. The Chicks' albums are still selling strongly. ``Home'' is their third straight platinum record, and although sales dipped after ``the incident,'' the album has sold more than 5 million copies.

The trio ended up at the center of a maelstrom after Maines told a London audience in March, after the initial U.S. attack on Iraq, that the group was ``ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.''

The Chicks didn't back down politically Tuesday, entering the arena to the recorded strains of Bruce Springsteen's anti-war song, ``Born in the U.S.A.''

They were even more daring musically during a gleefully satisfying show that lasted almost two hours and included 10 songs from their new bluegrass-tinged album ``Home'' and 12 others in more of a rock vein.

When they hit it big with ``Wide Open Spaces'' in 1998, the Chicks were an antidote to ``young country'' radio -- a slick Nashville sound that had more to do with Steve Miller and Don Henley than Hank Williams or Bill Monroe. With a fiddle, banjo, guitar and voices reminiscent of Patsy Cline, the Texas trio took country back to where the purists found it. Sure, the biggest hit on the new album is a retread of Fleetwood Mac's 1975 hit ``Landslide,'' but there is no questioning the authenticity of the rest of the strong album.

And they manage to pack giant arenas with the almost ancient sounds, despite controversies and bans on their music from country radio stations that have tried to equate free speech with treason.

Not first controversy

Tuesday's opener, ``Goodbye Earl,'' was a reminder of the Chicks' first controversy. When it came out in 2000, some radio stations refused to play the tale of a pair of friends who kill an abusive husband by poisoning his black-eyed peas.

The rest of the show moved quickly, thanks to clever staging. A raised stage in the center of the arena allowed the trio intimacy all over the giant hall. The Chicks ran through ``Some Days You Gotta Dance'' with wireless microphones, each woman facing a different direction, walking on ramps almost to the seats. They hit ``Hello Mr. Heartache'' and ``Cold Day in July'' while circling the stage.

If you lost sight of one, well-directed video screens picked her up. The stage set kept quickly springing up props: flowers, trees, a windmill, mixing a little down-home feel with high-tech light shows projected on the walkways.

``S&M Barbie was my inspiration for this outfit,'' joked fiddle player Martie Seidel, who wore a black leather suit and hanging metal chain accessories.

Her sister, banjo player Emily Erwin, walked around with the beatific smile of a musician who has played for years on street corners and is suddenly thrust into arenas. And Maines, daughter of steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, strutted and pouted like Elvis, in an off-the-shoulder white ``Flashdance''-style blouse.

Bluegrass twangers pretty enough for the videos, they held up fine if you shut your eyes and just listened to their strong mix of old country sounds and new country styles.

The night's most surprising number was a cover of the acidic ``Mississippi,'' which Bob Dylan wrote for Sheryl Crow. The best was a mournful ``Top of the World,'' a haunting and sad song about a man in heaven looking back on his life.

The most political song was ``Truth No. 2,'' which deals with speaking out about what's important. Maines said they didn't understand its meaning when they recorded it but have discovered its relevance after the public outcry against them. They showed videos of other public outcries during the song, including Nazis burning books, religious leaders burning Beatles albums and Muhammad Ali speaking out against the Vietnam War.

Some dissent

Not everyone bought into it. Outside the arena, two women wore shirts that said in glitter that they loved George Bush and Toby Keith. The Chicks have been in a duel of profane T-shirts with Keith, whose latest hit is an ode to patriotism.

``I love their songs but I don't like what they said,'' said Emileigh Sanborn, 20, a hair dresser from Sutter.

The show's only flaw was the sound.

The Chicks' greatest asset is their voices, which melt together like hot fudge on soft ice cream. They cut right through to your heart.

But some of that magic was garbled in an electronic hum. The arena sound had a kind of digital sheen to it, making everything sound too bright, particularly when the singers were using the wireless microphones.

The Chicks made up for it, though, with exuberance and enthusiasm, working hard to get physically closer to the audience.

Although this would have been so much better on a street corner or in a small club, you have to take what you can get, and this show was as good as modern country gets.

Dixie Chicks On 'Top Of The World,' Confetti And All

By Chad Jones, Alameda Times-Star Staff Writer


About 12 songs into their concert Wednesday night at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines referred to "the incident."

Introducing the song "Truth No. 2," Maines said that while recording the Patty Griffin-penned tune, she and fellow Chicks Emily Robison and Martie Maguire hadn't really understood the lyric "You don't like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth."

But about four months ago, Maines told a London audience that she was ashamed that President Bush, like the Chicks themselves, had come from Texas.

You probably remember what happened after that -- attempted boycotts, CD burnings, radio bans and a temporary lull in CD sales.

The whole Dixie-Bush scandal has died down, and the Chicks are winding up their "Top of the World" tour, which made a stop Tuesday at the Oakland Arena before heading down to San Jose.

The wildly popular country trio may not have made any political speeches on stage, but two Chicks actively promoted peace. Lead vocalist Maines wore a black tank top with a white spray-painted peace sign on it, while fiddle player Maguire dangled a shiny silver peace banner from above her left back pocket. Only banjo and guitar strummer Robison refrained from making a bid for peace.

What the Chicks were saying with their ensembles aside from the peace signs is another story. Their garish clothing can only be described as what might pass for punk in a Dallas suburb.

But adoring fans don't come to a Dixie Chicks concert for high fashion. They come for renegade country music that dares to flirt with pop, rock and bluegrass traditions, often simultaneously.

That the Chicks have achieved such phenomenal popularity with so many age groups -- entire families from toddlers to youngish seniors filled the arena Wednesday -- is mind-boggling. This is country music elevated to major rock 'n' roll status.

Several times during the show, for instance, Maguire would launch into a fiddle solo, and the crowd would react as if Clapton were launching into "Layla."

An overly loud arena show is really no place to hear sensitive vocals and beautifully played stringed instruments. The Chicks seem to know this, so they sacrifice some of the brilliant musicianship found on their three CDs (especially on "Home," their best and most recent disc) to put on a raucous show complete with confetti cannons, over-active video screens and some ridiculous special effects.

The trio's hit cover of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" is a beautiful song and doesn't really need a cascade of paper flower petals falling from the rafters, nor does it need the effect of dorky silk flowers popping out of the stage floor.

Lame theatricality aside, the "Top of the World" show managed to cram 22 songs, most from "Home" and "Fly," the Chicks' second album, into about 100 minutes, leaving very little time for any personalities to emerge. Arrangements stuck close to the album originals and patter was kept to a minimum.

What made the strongest impression was Maines' clarion voice. Because of arena amplification, lyrics were difficult to discern, but most in the audience seemed to know the words already and happily sang along.

Even though specific words got lost, Maines' crisp cry and winsome wail came through loud and clear on musical highlights such as "Top of the World," "There's Your Trouble" and "Long Time Gone."

Maguire and Robison provided tight back-up harmonies on "Cold Day in July" and the ballads "A Home" and "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)."

In an ideal world, the Dixie Chicks would be able say whatever they want about whatever government they want, and their more sedate acoustic shows would fill small auditoriums and theaters across the globe. When the hype dies down, it will be nice to get back to the gorgeous music.

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