Orlando, FL 2003

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photo by Shoun A. Hill / Orlando Sentinel

Dixie Chicks Acknowledge Furor, Then Sing Up A Storm

By Jim Abbott,
Orlando Sentinel Pop Music Writer

The protesters apparently couldn't make it, but nobody missed them.

"We're all for freedom of speech,'' Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines told a sold-out crowd Saturday at the TD Waterhouse Centre. Then, she allotted time for her critics to boo: "You've got 15 seconds to get it out of your system!''

If anyone did, it was drowned in a thunderous ovation that showed the Chicks' music is destined to last longer than the controversy sparked by Maines' comments about President Bush.

That furor was an undercurrent throughout the show, but the Chicks wisely kept the emphasis on the music. An infectious blend of bluegrass, country and pop, it's infinitely more interesting than the band's political views.

Performing on a mammoth stage in the center of the arena, Maines, banjoist Emily Robison and fiddler Martie Maguire injected their generous set with instrumental virtuosity. They traded intricate licks with ease on barnburners such as the radio single "Long Time Gone'' and "White Trash Wedding,'' one of several songs presented in rootsy acoustic arrangements.

Each song showcased a different angle of the group's versatility: Maguire's fiddle wandered sweetly through "There's Your Trouble''; Robison's banjo flavored "Long Time Gone''; and the group's high lonesome harmonies soared in "Tortured, Tangled Hearts.''

The Chicks were accompanied by an eight-piece band that weaved from rock-flavored pop to beautiful ballads augmented by a string quartet. The Chicks looked almost industrial in black leather-accented outfits augmented by primary colors. Natalie's tank-top was adorned with a peace sign.

The group's most overt reference to the controversy was a video that accompanied "Truth No. 2,'' a song on the Home album penned by Boston singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. The four screens above the stage flashed images of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, book-burners and, finally, news footage of angry fans stomping on Dixie Chicks albums.

While it's heavy-handed to compare the group's plight to the Civil Rights Movement, it created a dramatic moment.

Maines also was able to joke about the situation, imploring the band to start a song after an unusually long pause before "Ready to Run.''

"We know what happens when I talk too much,'' she said.

Luckily, the band's music speaks eloquently on its own.
Dixie Chicks Let 'Er Rip
Pop Country Group Lights Up Orlando's TD Waterhouse

By Bill Dean, The Ledger

The climactic moment in the Dixie Chicks' show Saturday in Orlando came four songs before the finale. A buoyant but nearly out-of-breath Natalie Maines told the packed house that it was one of the band's greatest crowds.

Then she spoke the line of the day at TD Waterhouse Centre.

"You know what happens when I talk too much," Maines said -- tongue only partly in cheek -- as the crowd roared collectively.

The performance was the second of the Chicks' mostly sold-out Top of the World Tour, which opened Thursday in Greenville, S.C., and continues tonight in Tampa.

It was also the first in Florida since Maines' more notorious remark in London in March that the Chicks were "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

But if country radio had all but stopped playing the Chicks' music since then, and if the mere mention of their name brought outrage from Americans across the country in a time of war, Saturday's concert seemed to be mostly about the art of breaking down -- as in vocals, fiddles and banjos setting the roof on fire.

Talk-show hosts and conservative critics would have been disappointed at the lack of protesters (only one stood on a street corner near the arena), and Maines and her harmonizing, sister-act partners, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, pretty much delighted the sold-out crowd out 15,000.

Three tunes into the 110-minute show -- following an opening "Goodbye Earl" that sizzled like the bogus black-eyed peas in Earl's stomach -- Maines made the same offer she had two nights before in South Carolina.

"We believe in freedom of speech," she said. "So you've got 15 seconds to say whatever you'd like."

The crowd responded with thunderous applause and cheers, and a standing ovation that continued from when the Chicks first appeared.

From that point on, Saturday's 22-song set was mostly about huge hits, country/bluegrass rave-ups and even a few surprises.

Maines' lead vocals withstood the separate demands of belting out rousers like "Sin Wagon," singing ballads such as "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)" and harmonizing with her bandmates on "Cowboy Take Me Away" in fine form.

Her black outfit of miniskirt, peace-sign T-shirt and chains topped with a pumped-up blonde hair-style made her look like a punk-rock fan crossed with Pepe Le Pew. And she shook her head like one on "Long Time Gone," the rousing lead-off from the group's third and most recent album, "Home."

Robison balanced banjo runs on "There's Your Trouble" and others with gentle, played-on-her-lap dobro ("Cold Day in July"), while Maguire fiddled like Charlie Daniels' devil on "Hello Mr. Heartache."

Visually, the show was among the most elaborate offered to country fans.

The amoeba-shaped stage took up much of the floor and allowed pockets of fans to stand in two sections surrounded by curving walkways on each end of the floor, while a middle, in-the-round section housed an eight-piece backing band.

Such a setup worked well for several highlights off "Home," including "Travelin' Soldier" -- the song about a couple during the Vietnam War that was dropped by country radio like a hot potato after Maines' Bush remark.

On "Landslide," the Chicks covered the Fleetwood Mac tune while elevated on a round pedestal at center stage. And on "Truth No. 2," they sang as images of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama and others were shown on overhead screens.

There were also plants that popped up from the stage during "Mississippi" -- a Bob Dylan song from the latter's 2001 album "Love and Theft."

Before the concert, a single, lone protester stood outside with a sign that said, "I'm ashamed the Chicks are from Texas."

But during the show, thousands of fans inside were happy they had come to Florida.

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