Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 2003

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Dixie Chicks Mix Country, Rock In A Spectacular Show

by Peter North,
Edmonton Journal

See ya Garth Brooks and stick to your lip synching, Shania, because neither of you could ever present a show with a sliver of the show biz imagination and artistic merit that the Dixie Chicks hatched for a crowd of 14,000 last night at the Skyreach Centre.

Has there ever been an act anything like this talented trio of ladies who understand how entertainment and high-calibre music can mesh so comfortably?

We all knew they were coming with the hits as Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Martie Maguire have been dispensing them with regularity since their first disc blew fans and radio programmers away in 1998.

To watch this daredevil group, which went against the new country tide, evolve as a creative and performing entity is one of the feel good stories in an entertainment world mired in voyeurism and vapid movies.

Working on a massive multi-level stage at the centre of the venue linked by ramps, staircases and runways, the three sprang forth from a giant Chinese lantern, lit into a blistering rendition of "Goodbye Earl" and basically announced "Hello Edmonton, fasten your seat-belts."

Armed with a pink Fender bass, a very slim Natalie Maines belted out the verses about matrimonial murder while her bandmates darted forth during the choruses with rapid fire banjo and fiddle fills that served notice that what you hear at a Chicks concert is the real deal.

While film screens framed solos and vocal refrains, the lighting team set off more cues in a song than your average Tim Horton's serves doughnuts in a day.

When deafening applause died down it was into another chart- topping, bluegrass dipped or honky-tonk injected number that never missed a lick or came close to losing a grip on its musical roots, even though they were being presented with a rock and roll attitude.

Swagger was the order of the day. Its the foundation of Mainess voice on uptempo pieces like "There's Your Trouble", "Tonight The Heartache's On Me" and "Long Time Gone." A different kind of swagger was evident and appreciated by all as the three criss-crossed the platforms in front of a red-hot all-star eight-piece band that included ex-John Mellancamp guitarist David Grissom, and former Waylon Jennings steel player Robbie Turner.

Stripped down bluegrass segments brought down the pumping pulse of the crowd as did harmony riddled readings of "Travellin' Soldier" and "Let Him Fly".

Does it get better than this in the big arenas? Not on your life.

These Chicks Fly

By Mike Ross, Edmonton Sun

EDMONTON -- Pay attention to where the beautiful young women go. Follow their movements. Study their habits. Throughout history it has been the beautiful young women who set the agenda for what is "in," what is "cool." Elvis, the Beatles, the Dixie Chicks - just take a look in the front row and you'll have your answer.

Hearing a crowd of 14,000 mainly beautiful young women scream themselves hoarse for a mandolin solo in a real and I mean real country band is a surreal experience. All this talk about the resurgence of "traditional" country music sounded like a load of hopeful hogwash until these Dixie Chicks made it to the "top of the world" -- which happens to be the name of the tour the spicy Texas trio brought to Skyreach Centre last night -- attracting legions of beautiful young women. These fans are smart, too, career-minded, upwardly mobile. They've got it going on. They are empowered. The Dixie Chicks' songs speak of empowerment in a way that few female country stars have done before, save Loretta Lynn and she's looking a little rough these days.

The opening song, for instance, was the galloping Goodbye Earl, about the murder and burial of an abusive husband, after which the murderesses live happily ever after selling strawberry jam.

Tortured, Tangled Hearts, a song getting deep into the traditional country flavour, apparently deals with a woman who literally rips her lover's heart out. In the rowdy White Trash Wedding, the woman says to her intended, "Say I do and kiss me quick, 'cause baby's on its way." This ain't yer mother's country.

It sure sounded like it, though: banjos, fiddles, steel guitar, gospel harmonies, drum-less arrangements -- and this crowd of mainly beautiful young women went wild. Not since Garth Brooks has there been this kind of reaction to a country show in Edmonton and I'm not going to count Shania Twain because that wasn't a country show.

In the case of the Dixie Chicks, the musicianship is about a hundred times better than anything either Shania or Garth brought to this space. The 12-piece band, including a string section and all the usual country instruments, was a cut above the usual bunch of studio cats you often get in such big tours. The mandolin player was especially spectacular. The production was elaborate, an "in the round" setup complete with wings on two sides, motorized platforms, giant video screens on four sides as well as a floor constructed of video screens. Country writ large. Seeing such an arena monstrosity, you might expect an overblown, overdone spectacle of style over substance, but one of the most amazing things about last night's show is how the Chicks were able to keep it real.

At some points, they all gathered together as if on stage at the Grand Ol' Opry, knocking off bluegrass numbers like Long Time Gone and later a smokin' instrumental jam Ricky Skaggs would be proud of. Other times, they made use of the sprawling space, each Chick strutting about the stage in choreographed precision, each doing her thing in a different corner, wired up with headset mics and wireless banjos, guitars and fiddles. Their three-part harmonies were perfect. There was no evidence of lip-syncing.

They sing their own songs, they play their own songs, they write their own songs. Aside from a few public CD-crushings, their popularity has only increased since that Bush-dissing incident. Again, this ain't your mother's country.

What the Dixie Chicks managed to do last night was deliver a traditional country concert that showcased real musicianship and real roots and wrapped in the high-production glitz of a giant rock concert. Top of the world indeed. This was the best country music show I've seen in Skyreach Centre, though I haven't seen all of them.

IN THE SEATS: 14,000

NOTE PERFECT: Opened with murder song Goodbye Earl

SOUR NOTE: Only for Earl

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