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Dixie Chicks Ain't Apologising

By Sophie Best, The Age


The furore created by Natalie Maines' remark that she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas was all the more shocking for being directed at the Dixie Chicks - surely the most unlikely target of American anger.

Since their breakthrough album Wide Open Spaces hit mainstream success in 1998, the three down-home Texas girls have been the darlings of Middle America with their radio-friendly, traditionally flavoured country music.

There's nothing un-American about a Dixie Chicks concert; their soaring harmonies, smiles and catchy tales of modern womanhood are as sweet and dependable as mom's apple pie.

The most appealing thing about the Dixie Chicks - besides their impeccable skills as players, confidently displayed on Sunday night - is their capacity to keep it real. This is no mean feat in a stadium concert, which tends by sheer scale to magnify performers into superstar stature.

The Chicks know how to put on a stadium show, yet stay true to the reality of making music; the simple, human glory of voices joining together, fingers strumming and plucking at the strings of wooden instruments. This is their greatness, and it's why they have sold millions of albums: they are stars, and yet they are everywomen.

"Who doesn't know what I'm talking about?" asks Maines in the opening lines of Wide Open Spaces, the Chicks' universal anthem of young girls' smalltown dreams: "Who's never left home, who's never struck out/To find a dream and a life of their own?". A quick look around Rod Laver Arena confirms that thousands of women know exactly what she's talking about - the mostly female audience is singing along with every word.

Other favourites were Travelin' Soldier, written by banjo and dobro player Emily Robison's brother-in-law, and the truly affecting cover of Stevie Nicks' Landslide, from their latest album, Home.

The Chicks' bluegrass roots shone through in an acoustic bracket, led by the foot-stomping, three-part harmonies of White Trash Wedding. Robison and sister Martie Maguire demonstrated their superb skills as instrumentalists with Maguire's champion-level fiddle fronting a crack eight-piece band.

All three Chicks have gorgeous voices, and although Maines is the consummate frontwoman, all confidence a-strut in her thigh-high boots, a tennis skirt and singlet with peace insignia, it was Maguire's crystal clear high harmonies that really stunned.

From the opener, the gutsy Goodbye Earl, to the encore, Sin Wagon - "praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition" - their high-energy show made it plain that the Chicks owe apologies to no one, not even President Bush.

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