Fresno, CA 2006

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Chicks stick to the music
No controversy as Dixie Chicks rock Save Mart Center.
By Mike Osegueda for The Fresno Bee

The Dixie Chicks were three songs into their set Thursday night before Natalie Maines opened her mouth for something other than singing.

Problem was, the crowd at the Save Mart Center was cheering so loud after the Chicks' hit song, "Goodbye Earl," that you couldn't hear her.

" ... Fresno," was about all that was audible.

Then, she offered the customary, "How are you guys doing tonight?"

The crowd cheered and Maines said, "Excellent."

Pretty normal stuff. Nothing controversial yet from Ms. I-Hate-the-President.

"You look lovely," she said. "I like what you're wearing."

Come on, Natalie — give us something succulent.

"You've got good signs."

Oh, here we go.

She paused and peered into the crowd, then said, "Double fisting? Excellent way to listen to the show. We're gonna play some songs for you tonight ... and umm ... that's what we're gonna do. Because that's what we're here for."

And that's pretty much what Maines and the girls did during their two-hour, 22-songs set. No politics — not directly anyway. Just music.

The Dixie Chicks were on their best behavior. Even before, during and after "Not Ready to Make Nice," the group's scathing response to all the political hubbub that surrounds them, not a word about Bush, presidents or wars was uttered.

The fans loved it. And everybody who was waiting for the Dixie Chicks to say something offensive in conservative Fresno did just that — wait.

But looking around the arena, it was pretty clear that whether the Chicks said something on Thursday, what they had said in the past had already left a bruise.

The upper level of the Save Mart Center was curtained off, leaving the Chicks playing to a smaller house of maybe 8,000. The lower level was full, but not jam-packed.

This for a band that has had two CDs sell more than 10 million copies — no small feat — and its latest release "Taking the Long Way," debut at No. 1.

All the political mumbo-jumbo was enough to keep Alexandra Siemens' dad away. He bought two tickets and originally asked his 18-year-old daughter, "Want to go see the Dixie Chicks?"

The day before the show, he told his daughter, "Wait. It's political. Take a friend."

"He's a Republican," Alexandra said of her dad.

So Justine McCombs, 18, was sitting next to Siemens.

"I wish they were more energetic," Siemens shrugged.

Indeed, the Chicks were a bit stiff.

When they came out at 8:45p.m. — to just some flashing red lights and a video, none of the standard concert hoopla — they each took a spot in front of a microphone and then didn't move much.

It wasn't until the eighth song that Maines finally walked across the stage.

A few songs later was when the boos finally came. In fact, all Maines had to do was utter a single name and the boos rang out.

"Is Kevin Federline from here?" Maines asked and laughed.

"No, don't lie," she said as people booed. "I heard you would deny it. I got my best people looking into it."

She laughed again and said, "I love Kevin. I've dedicated this song to him each of the last five shows. ... I do that because I'm a nice person and I care about what people think."

Then the Chicks ripped into "White Trash Wedding."

That's kinda how it went when Maines talked.

She was tip-toey, with a tone that said, "I know what I mean and you know what I mean, I'm just not gonna say it."

She was talking about "Shut Up and Sing," the documentary made about the group's political controversy, and coyly said, "I don't know what it's all about."

That tone was just fine with concertgoers, most of whom were raving about the music and not really paying mind to anything else.

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