Kansas City, MO 2003

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Dixie Chicks Bring Peace, Politics To Kemper Performance
By Timothy Finn, The Kansas City Star

When a band goes through what the Dixie Chicks have been through, nothing it does publicly is a matter of coincidence.

So the songs that came through the public address system before the Chicks' show at Kemper on Saturday didn't just happen to be tunes by the Go-Gos, Elvis Costello or Paul McCartney & Wings. They were songs with a sly, wry and pertinent message: "Our Lips Are Sealed"; "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding"; and "Band on the Run."

The "past two months" (as they called the March 12 incident in London) might have cost the Chicks peace of mind and radio airtime, but it sure didn't kill their sense of humor.

Nor did it affect in the least their ability to entertain a house packed with devotees, none of whom showed a hint of dismay or protest over what has happened over the "past two months." Instead, this was loud and raucous lovefest for hands-down the best live act in country music (and pop, too).

The Chicks spent little time talking to the crowd, but their clothes said a few things. Singer Natalie Maines had the slogan "Fight War Not Wars; Destroy Power Not People" inscribed along the bottom of her torn T-shirt; and Martie Maguire wore a "Free Natalie" T-shirt, glossy combat boots and military pants.

Those weren't the only political statements. Just before the Chicks took the stage, the P.A. system blared "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen, who explicitly supported the Chicks before their U.S. tour began. The crowd ate it up.

Later, during "Truth No. 2," a video featured documentary footage from the civil rights, gay rights and women's suffrage movements and footage of teens destroying Beatles' (and then Dixie Chicks') music as words like "tolerance" popped up on the screen. It was a very U2 moment.

The show lasted nearly two hours and covered 22 songs, and there wasn't a dead spot the whole night.

All the hits got huge ovations, especially the tunes from the "Fly" album, but so did a few lesser-known cuts: "Lil' Jack Slade," the breakneck bluegrass instrumental from "Home"; "Mississippi," a Bob Dylan tune they turned into a rollicking country-rock anthem; and "Am I The Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)," a Maria McKee song, in which Maines shared lead vocals with Joan Osborne, the opening performer.

Maines is a powerful, demonstrative singer -- one of the few who can make clunky, cavernous Kemper sound almost like a chamber hall. The sound was unusually crisp all night, especially during the Chicks' two- and three-part harmonies.

The stage Saturday was set in the middle of the Kemper floor, but it wasn't exactly a "round." Instead it was nearly an acre of platforms, peninsulas, islets, walkways and ministages -- which meant all three were in near constant motion, trying to play to all four sides of the arena.

There were some visuals, too: the plants along the ends of the stage bloomed into flowers during "Landslide"; a disco ball sprayed bits of light across the crowd during "Godspeed"; and at the very end of "Sin Wagon," the place erupted in confetti, streamers and clouds of smoke.

None of that gravy was necessary, though. It was apparent from the start why this crowd had come: to hear some great music and to pass along a little peace, love and understanding to three ladies who deserved it as much as they seemed to need it.

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