Ft. Lauderdale, FL 2003

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photo by Candace West / Miami Herald

Dixie Chicks Wow Crowd

By Charles Passy,
Palm Beach Post Music Critic

SUNRISE -- Mark Ewbank is enough of a Dixie Chicks fan that he's not about to let a little political squabble get in the way of the music. Especially after he shelled out $300 for four prime seats to the country trio's concert at the Office Depot Center on Sunday night.

But the Miami resident is also enough of a supporter of President Bush to make sure that politics does not get completely swept behind. His solution? He came to the concert wearing a T-shirt that declared "Bush ain't proud you're from Texas either," a play on Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines' antiwar remark that made the twangy threesome the focus of so much recent controversy.

"With what I paid for the tickets, if I come, I'm going to let 'em know how I feel," said Ewbank, 42, before the start of the show.

The T-shirt was about the most vocal protest to be registered the entire evening. Despite all the fuss that has greeted the Dixie Chicks' "Top of the World" tour, which kicked off last week in South Carolina, South Florida greeted the group with open arms.

Outside the venue, there was not a picket in sight. Inside, a thunderous welcome obliterated any hint of the name-calling that has been heard over talk radio. To the nearly sold-out crowd of better than 15,000, these weren't the "Dixie Twits" or "Saddam's Angels." They were just three women singing their hearts out.

Of course, it didn't hurt that the Chicks seemed determined to put on as big a theatrical spectacle as you're likely to see, short of a Madonna tour.

Staged in the round, the concert made use of several projection screens, two catwalks and enough rotating lights to suggest a fashion show-gone-Vegas. The trio, which also includes banjo player Emily Robison and fiddler Martie Maguire, didn't shy from making a statement with their attire, either. With her punk-rock
outfit, Maguire looked to be auditioning for a role in Rent, the East Village-inspired musical.

But it was the music that mattered most. After rising from below the stage courtesy of a hydraulic lift, the group belted out Goodbye Earl, is smart-alecky tune about a wife-beater who gets his just punishment. More up-tempo material soon followed -- and it was as if the recent controversy never existed.

Maines greeted the cheering crowd on a note of perfect sassiness. "You have got some fine-looking gentlemen here," the singer declared. "I can look, I just can't

But it took a Sunrise police officer to put the event in proper perspective. Noting that all the anticipated protests failed to materialize, he registered a complaint of his own on this sweaty evening.

"I'm the only one protesting -- 'cause I'm hot," he said.
Truth: Chicks Great; Sonics Grating
By Howard Cohen, Miami Herald 
The Dixie Chicks didn't really have to do much of anything, aside from just show up before a full house at the Office Depot Center in Sunrise Sunday, to get a thunderous roar of applause. If any hard feelings lingered -- on either side -- because of lead singer Natalie Maines' comment two months ago in London that she was ashamed President Bush was from their home state of Texas, they weren't apparent as the high-spirited gals kicked off the third show of their Top of the World Tour with their snarky tale of abusive spouse removal, Goodbye Earl.

Nine songs would pass before fiddle player Martie Maguire brought up The Subject. 'On our first night [in Greenville,] Natalie said we have the best fans in the world. The next day on TV it said that she said, `We are the best band in the world.' Isn't it funny how the press can twist things?''

More applause.

A fleet-fingered bluegrass raveup, White Trash Wedding, quickly put the focus back on the Chicks' impressive musicianship. In addition to Maguire, her sister Emily Robison played banjo, and Maines strummed guitar and sang her Texan heart out. Maines exhibited her range especially well during the two encores -- soft and heartbreaking on the touching Top of the World, the Chicks' most affecting song, and, through clenched teeth, she tore through the fiery closer, Sin Wagon.

The spitfire singer, clad in an olive green tank top and black miniskirt, did have her say about her recent problems, but did so with humor.

''I contemplated not wearing this skirt because I'd have to sit like this,'' she said, crossing her legs at the edge of the stage. ''Then I thought, hell, you've seen me naked,'' a reference to the recent Entertainment Weekly cover in which the Chicks posed fully plucked.

Before singing Truth No. 2 Maines said the song's meaning originally escaped her. ``But now the song makes a whole lot of sense.''

You don't like the sound of the truth / Coming from my mouth.

As the trio sang, video screens underscored the defiant song by flashing images of civil, abortion and women's rights marches. ''Then'' and ''Now'' footage of fans trashing the Beatles' LPs (after John Lennon was misunderstood in 1966 for saying that the ''Beatles were more popular than Jesus'') were juxtaposed with recent shots of children stomping Dixie Chicks CDs. The song ended with one word flickering on the screens: ``Tolerance.''

''We better start some music or I'll get myself in trouble again,'' Maines immediately cracked, leading into the jaunty If I Fall You're Going Down With Me, an older song that suddenly felt as if it were aimed at her critics.

One doesn't expect such courageous moves coming from a country act and, as such, these Chicks are to be commended.

Less praiseworthy, however, was the staging and sound. The band performed on a tiered ''in the round'' stage that failed to offer the promised intimacy. With raised stairs on either side obscuring the view, depending on where you were seated, most of the 105-minute concert was spent playing Spot the Chick as the trio roamed the immense and awkward stage.

Worse, the sound was bass-heavy muddy and, on Cold Day in July, painfully shrill. It was so boomy and echoey during opening act Joan Osborne's 45-minute rock set some of her songs were nearly unrecognizable.

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