Little Rock, AR 2003

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photo by Benjamin Krain / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Fans Devour Dazzling Dixie Chicks

Pat-down At Concert Checks Record 17,065 For Would-be 'Assassins' at Alltel Arena
By Jack W. Hill, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
       Security precedures seemed to take on a more thorough magnitude at the Dixie Chicks' soldout concert Friday night at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock. The pat-down was a little more serious andmusic fans knew that the Chicks were no longer beloved by all those who once hailed their virtues.
       But you would not have known the trio had any detractors once you got inside.
       Joy and merriment reigned, as people surveyed the impressive dynamics of the concert "in-the-round" experiences, with the stage spread far and wide with sweeping paths, angles, different levels and steps, so the three women could dash to al corners of the stage while their 12 person band came and went in the center of the setup.
       And as if to thwart and would-be assassins, the Chicks came and went hidden in equipment cases, since there was no hidden trapdoor in the building floor. The show drew 17,065 fans, which arena marketing director Betty Baxter said was the largest crowd ever at Alltel. It surpassed the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball game against Oklahoma State in 2001 that attracted 44 fewer people.
       The predominantly female audience was ready to rock from the beginning, starting with "Goodbye Earl", the Chicks' 1999 song that first gave notice that the women didn't mind upsetting the country music establishment by openly discussing murder as a solution to spousal abuse.
       Anyone expecting Natalie Maines to utter anymore inflammatory statements about President Bush were doomed to disappointment, although there was plenty of food-for-thought during the intermission when the break music consisted of carefully chosen songs that created a mood -- one of awareness of the Chicks' tilting at the censorship windmill.
       And during "Truth #2", about half-way through the show, the large video screens displayed images of people demonstrating for civil rights, against the Vietnam War, for women's rights and so on. Film of records by the Beatles being crushed were shown, as well as the crushing of Dixie Chicks' CDs, and the admonitions to "register, vote, seek the truth".
       "There's Your Trouble" was a fine showcase for Martie Maguire's fiddling skills and "Long Time Gone" was nicely done, as were "Travelin' Soldier", "White Trash Wedding", "Tortured, Tangled Hearts", "Lil' Jack Slade" and the Chicks' version of Fleetwood mac's "Landslide".
       The encore, starting with "Top of the World", featured the stunning combination of live Chicks and their amazing video of the song, and the two-pronged, provocative presentation was as hard-hitting as anything Peter Gabrial has ever done. But not content to send people away thinking too hard, they wrapped it up with their party anthem, "Sin Wagon".
       For 110 minutes, the Chicks were virtually nonstop, and unlike Cher, they took no time for costume or wig changes. what you saw was what you got. The women were dressed to the nines, with black the predominant color, and all three in stiletto heels, which must have made for some stressful moments way up high on that stage, not that any of them seem stressed out.
       The only regrettable aspect of the show was the lack of attention paid to fixing the sound so we could hear the fine banjo and dobro-picking of Emily Robison. there were no problems hearing Maguire's spirited fiddling, so one wondered why sister Emily got no respect.
       David Grissom, who led the band, did a fine job on guitar, which was no surprise after his years with Joe Ely and John Melloncamp. There was even a string section on some songs.
       Opening act Michelle Branch put on an energetic 38-minute show, but her lyrics were not comprehensible, at least to some of us who have never heard her music, other than her vocals on a Santana song and that song was not part of her show.
       For a 20-year old, she put on a good performance, and perhaps she merely suffered the fate of many opening acts. The sound system was on automatic pilot and was not going to be adjusted to suit her needs.

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