Calgary, Alberta, Canada 2003

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photo by Jim Wells / Calgary Sun

Chicks Hatch Cool Country

by Anika Van Wyk, Calgary Sun

It's been a Long Time Gone since the Dixie Chicks played Calgary, but the wait was well worth it.

The Texas trio provided Calgary with one of the best country concerts since, well, the last time they graced the Saddledome stage.

Never shy of controversy, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire all sporting peace signs on their clothes, opened with their contentious hit Goodbye Earl.

Later, while introducing Truth No. 2, when Maines mentioned the "little episode" -- referring to her anti-war, Bush-slamming comments last year that caused many U.S. radio stations to ban the Chicks music --the 15,000-strong Calgary crowd went wild.

"We have to join together so the losers can't win", Maines told the crowd once they quieted down.

Freedom of speech has never sounded so sweet.

Not only do these Chicks have beauty and brains, they can also play. Their skills on their instruments are just as hot as their tiny figures.

They've also managed to collect an impressive backup band that last night consisted of nearly a dozen musicians.

And if that wasn't enough, the staging equalled the Chicks class act. There was impressive big-screen video work, as well as set changes on the multi-levelled round stage. At one point, they turned the stage into a winding river, complete with marsh. During the song A Home, a large tree came up from the centre of the stage and could be viewed from all seats inside the Dome.

With no low points in the show -- the last of their current tour -- it's difficult to pick out highlights. But White Trash Wedding best showed off what the Chicks have to offer.

The fans in the packed Saddledome weren't the only ones having a good time. The Chicks also seemed at ease and ready for fun. At several points in the show, Robison was able to make Gaines giggle while singing.

The chicken coup, the centre part of the stage usually reserved for good-looking cowgirls in the audience, was not only filled with excited fans but also crew members who were dancing along and snapping pictures of their bosses.

Calgary's Jann Arden was the perfect compliment to the Chicks' show. Like the trio, Arden is an artist that colours outside the lines, is always classy and, most importantly, delivers her work straight from the heart.

The blonder than usual Arden was in top form during her all too short 45-minute set. She opened with Waiting in Canada and mixed things up from there with a collection of old and new tunes, including the first single, Love Is The Only Soldier, from her new album due Sept. 9.

The limited set sadly didn't allow the local stars wonderful humour to fully shine through.

But she made time to include two of her biggest hits, Good Mother and a hauntingly slow and unique version of Insensitive.

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