Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 2003

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A Dixieland Delight

Dixie Chicks keep spotlight on music in energetic show

By Ann Marie McQueen, Ottawa Sun

OTTAWA -- The Dixie Chicks may have suffered a massive backlash in the U.S. after singer Natalie Maines' "we're ashamed he's from Texas" comment about President W. George Bush last spring, but judging from the group's reception at the Corel Centre last night, they can say whatever they want to up here.

Maines didn't refer to "the incident" until she and bandmates Martie Maguire and Emily Robison sat down partway through their two-hour concert to sing Truth No. 2, off last year's Grammy-winning third album Home. When she did, about 15,000 people drowned her out with cheers.

"After the incident, this song made a whole lotta sense," she said.

But the Dixie Chicks are about more than controversy, as they showed last night with a slick performance on a multi-tiered, "in-the-round" stage. The trio first appeared on a cutout which was slowly elevated. It was an interesting set device which returned later when a four-piece string section appeared out of nowhere to accompany the trio on their cover of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide.

An eight-piece band of fellas --three who, for part of the show at least, were wearing a pair of red devil horns on their heads -- filled in the group's lush sound, a combination of bluegrass, pop and country.

Maguire, a whiz on the fiddle, was showcased throughout the show but particularly in her frenzied sections on the upbeat hit Ready to Run. Robison was impressive on the banjo, memorably during the raucous closer Sin Wagon. The three performers maximized the crowd's view by making good use of the stage and its many platforms. Musically they were adept at taking the energy down for a slow tune like Top of the World and then right back up again, many times over.

There were lots of recognizable tunes, like show opener Goodbye Earl, a song about taking revenge on an abusive spouse which sparked its own kerfuffle several years ago; There's Your Trouble, the title track off their 1998 debut album Wide Open Spaces; and Cowboy Take Me Away off 1999's Fly.

The Dixie Chicks were less Cowgirl Power and more leather-and-studs to look at, starting with Maines' red-and-black fishnets and thigh-high boots and ending in all three ladies' impossibly spiky stilettos.


It was all very sophisticated and actually quite girly, from the talk about motherhood in introducing the ballad Godspeed (Sweet Dreams), to the giant flowers that sprouted from the sides of the stage during Landslide.

And Maines got more cheers when she stopped to say Canadian fans keep getting "better and better" despite the trio having been warned we were more of a "quiet, listening audience."

There wasn't a hint of retaliation to the latest volley in Maines' war of words with fellow country star Toby Keith. When Keith was in Ottawa performing July 26, an opening video showed a photo of her face attached to a frog's body while he talked about her "blowhole." Perhaps selling three times as many tickets as Keith is the best kind of Dixieland revenge.

Canadian treasure Jann Arden was a late addition to the Chicks' five Canadian dates. Arden stuck mostly to old crowd favourites like Insensitive and Good Mother during her half-hour set, though she introduced Ruby Red and Love is the Only Soldier off her new album, due out next month.

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