Detroit, MI 2003

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Dixie Chicks Bring Bland Country To The Palace

By Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press

In the country music world inhabited by the Dixie Chicks, the roadhouse bar serves Amstel Light, "down home" means that place in the new subdivision, and Main Street is the road that gets you to the Gap.

The Chicks' penchant for rustic sounds with a twist of contemporary pop -- country music for people who don't like country -- has proved a winning formula, with millions of records sold and the year's biggest concert tour now packing arenas. That golden path led the band Monday night into the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Texas trio put together a gracious if rough-edged set before a capacity crowd of about 20,000.

The Chicks have staged better Detroit shows. Monday's performance felt sluggish at times, and the trio's typical spunk was in light supply. What should have been silken renditions of the ballads "At Home" and "Top of the World" turned into major stumbles -- an off-kilter vocal performance plagued by a poor mix.

But Monday night, it was obvious the Dixie Chicks have become one of popular music's leading franchises.

Vocalist Natalie Maines, whose sore throat had caused cancellation of the group's scheduled Sunday date in Cleveland, occasionally struggled to find her voice. But Maines was also the night's emotional trail guide, leading fiddler Martie Maguire and guitarist Emily Robison -- and their eight-piece backing band -- through a variety of musical moods.

There was the classic countrypolitan sound of "Hello Mr. Heartache," the big-ballad crowd singalongs like "Travelin' Soldier," and "Cold Day in July." Best were songs like "Long Time Gone" and "There's Your Trouble" -- the sort of midtempo pop material, splashed with fiddle and Texas twang, at which the Chicks excel. Not so fresh were the trios' quickly aging novelty numbers, including show opener "Goodbye Earl."

"I had absolutely no voice yesterday," Maines told the audience midway through. "And I swear you could hear the clapping from the Oval Office." It was one of a couple of references to what the trio apparently now refers to as "the incident" -- Maines' pre-war disparaging of President George W. Bush at a London show. The comment was met by loud applause and scattered boos.

Renegades though they may be in the context of bland modern Nashville, the Dixie Chicks aren't punk enough to carry off martyrdom. Video footage that accompanied their reading of Patty Griffin's "Truth No. 2" referenced real-life dissidents and victims of political war -- and revealed a laughable presumptuousness on the part of the Chicks, who should stick with cheesy nude cover shots on "Entertainment Weekly" for their statement-making.

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