Indianapolis, IN 2003

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photo by Matt Detrich / The Star

Dixie Chicks Rattled But Strong


The Dixie Chicks, now six shows into their U.S. tour, have put their antiwar dust-up to bed.

This is partially by choice, as the lead-in music to their Thursday performance at Conseco Fieldhouse included winking tracks such as "Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney and Wings and "Our Lips Are Sealed" by the Go-Gos.

The trio also rolled archival footage of civil rights marches and Gandhi -- intercut with images of pint-sized sneakers smashing copies of Dixie Chicks albums -- during the song "Truth No. 2."

The group has felt a backlash since vocalist Natalie Maines disrespected President Bush in March. But it's a stretch to equate their crisis with cultural struggles of the past.

Interpreted another way, the footage deftly belittles the attention given to Maines' ill-advised stage banter in London. ("We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas," she said, if you haven't been paying attention to the Texas trio.)

On Thursday, a lone protester stood outside the arena, and a concertgoer flashed a large "I love Bush" sign at Maines during the show.

Fiddle player Martie Maguire surmised that there was a "protesters' box" in the room, because she could see someone in a luxury suite watching TV instead of the concert.

Jokes aside, it seems that Maines, Maguire and banjo player Emily Robison remain slightly rattled from their very public case study in free speech.

In terms of career longevity, it's always a good sign when an artist's newest material is its strongest. For the Dixie Chicks, selections from the current album "Home" carried the night.

"Travelin' Soldier" may have been the great single killed by country radio as the controversy blazed, yet a large part of the sellout crowd of 17,500 sang along with every word.

Bluegrass sprints "White Trash Wedding" and instrumental "Lil' Jack Slade" showcased Maguire, Robison and mandolin player Brent Truitt as players who can hold their own against Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder (the accomplished pickers who opened for the Chicks during their last visit to Indianapolis).

What continues to define the Dixie Chicks is their mission to push traditional country music and non-Nashville attitudes in opposite and equally compelling directions.

When Maines appeared onstage, she looked more rock 'n' roll than ever, with a bass guitar slung low and her hair piled high in implied Mohawk fashion.

Let's not forget this group took flight only after Maines joined the flock. Her uninhibited reading of "Tortured, Tangled Hearts" -- surpassed only by the superhuman vocals of "Cold Day in July" -- confirmed her credentials as a superstar entertainer.

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