Milwaukee, WI 2003

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photo by Benny Sieu

Didn't get tickets to the Dixie Chicks' show Thursday at the Bradley Center? You're not alone: The Chicks' entire tour sold out within minutes of going on sale in March. For those lacking in Chicks tix, check out the next best thing: The Journal Sentinel's live, riff-by-riff coverage of the entire show by music critic Gemma Tarlach, including opening act Joan Osborne.

6:57:18 p.m. Hello and welcome to our real-time, riff-by-riff coverage of the Dixie Chicks' sold-out Milwaukee show, live from the Bradley Center! We've got just about half an hour to go before opening act Joan Osborne is scheduled to arrive onstage. But before Joan starts singing, we've got a slew of fun facts about tonight's show to share with you. So stay tuned ... we're just getting warmed up!

7:33:17 p.m. Just a few minutes to go, folks!

7:42:42 p.m. Joan Osborne took the stage a few minutes late, but who's complaining with a voice like hers? Accompanied by a solemn drum beat, Joan's rich, mellow voice traveled up and down her range, setting an otherworldly mood. One by one, the rest of her four-piece band joined her, the stage bathed in blood red light.

7:43:53 p.m. Larger than life on the screens above the stage, Joan looks terrific tonight in black pants and a pink t-shirt with a skull and crossbones on it. The last stragglers in the crowd are filing in quicker than usual for an opening act, drawn by her voice, no doubt.

8:12:24 p.m. Sorry about the delay, folks, but there's a gremlin in our system tonight (hmmm, a Toby Keith fan, perhaps?) and we're having some server problems. Please remember to refresh your page frequently for the best coverage. By the way, we know we promised some fun facts about the show and believe us, we'll get to them ... right now however, Joan wants to know how the Milwaukee crowd is feeling tonight. The hoots and hollers and applause tell her in no uncertain terms. "Tonight is your chance to show them how much you love them," Osborne says of the Chicks, adding they've had "a rough couple of months." The crowd response is overwelming applause, though we did hear one boo.

8:13:00 p.m. Joan's biggest hit was "One of Us", from her 1995 album Relish, and tonight she's playing with that song's neo-folkie feel, stretching out her phrasing and turning the question What if God was one of us? into a bluesy, more melancholic reflection. A stage in the round might daunt some performers, but Joan is covering the stage with the confidence and grace of a headliner.

8:14:23 p.m. Picking up the mood, Joan and band are romping through Only You Know and I Know, the kind of swaggering tune usually heard in roadhouses across the nation. Sounds just fine here in the Bradley Center tonight, though.

8:14:48 p.m. "You've probably guessed by now that we are not, technically, a country band", Joan tells the crowd, introducing a song just for them. Its Bob Dylans To Make You Feel My Love, performed as gently as a lullaby.

8:16:03 p.m. Casually strapping on a guitar, Joan promises I'm gonna love you every day with the perfect touch of sexy rasp in her voice. And, judging by the crowd response when she leaves the stage a few moments later after a 35 minute set, she's made some new fans in the crowd. The house lights are back up and so are our servers. Stay tuned for those fun facts we promised!

8:17:00 p.m. What does it take to bring the Chicks to their fans? We'll tell ya: 16 semi-trucks, 13 tour buses, 6 shuttle vans, a road crew of more than 125 plus nearly 100 more Milwaukee area production staff supporting tonight's show alone. Want more numbers? How about these: eight caterers travel with the Chicks and crew, serving more than 200 people three meals a day. Go ahead, do the math. We'll wait.

8:20:29 p.m. We mentioned during Joan's set that the stage is in the round. Though it might be more accurate to say the stage is in the square. It's set in the middle of the Bradley Center, taking up about a third of the floor area. We've got a black, roughly square-shaped stage with curvy corners and two walkways that jut right out into the crowd. Large screens over the stage provide fans on all sides and levels a good view.

8:23:35 p.m. We're going to blame "American Idol" for this one... after showing videos by Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and other country legends, those screens over the stage are playing clips of Dixie Chicks' fans singing their favorite song from the Texas trio. A white and gray curtain embellished with roses now obscures the middle of the stage from fans in all directions and the Chick-wannabes have been replaced by tour logo on the screens.

8:27:56 p.m. We're getting a feeling of deja vu right now, remembering when U2 played the Bradley Center in 2001. Back then, the Irishmen's stage design included a heart-shaped pit between stage and walkway for a lucky few fans to get even closer to the band. Moments ago, a few dozen Dixie Chicks' devotees were allowed into a butterfly-shaped area between the center of the stage and one of the outer walkways.

8:33:24 p.m. As another group of fans fills up a second area on the other side of the stage for a Chicks-eye view of the show, the rest of the audience is getting a little restless for the show to start. We can't blame them, though we suspect nothing will happen until the 45th candle burns down. What are we talking about? It's another fun fact we learned: the Chicks and their crew burn 45 scented candles per day. We've also just learned that the set for the show weighs 80,000 pounds and is hung from more than 60 rigging points.

8:38:47 p.m. More Dixie by the numbers: the tour includes one yoga/pilates instructor (for the roadies? We're not sure), one video crew using six broadcast quality TV cameras and 23 flight cases *just* for catering equipment. Plus five 4,000 pound forklifts and 2000 amps of power nightly.

8:42:42 p.m. We've got R.E.M. singing "It's the end of the world as we know it" but it's not the end of the numbers we've got on this show. First-day sales for the Chicks broke records, with $49 million in tickets sold in the first couple hours for this tour back in early March. And lest you think the tour is all scented candles and pilates, we've also learned the crew consumes 120 pounds of potatoes, 200 pounds of meat, 60 cases of water and 80 cases of soda on a daily basis.

8:47:18 p.m. Roadies working inside the curtained area of the stage are toying with the crowd, making duck and bunny shadow puppets as they put the final touches on whatever gear and cool stuff (scented candles? potatoes?) they're readying in there. Lights are flashing on and off, keeping crowd anticipation high. A spontaneous wave is now circling the venue and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." is blasting from the speakers.

8:50:15 p.m. Lights out, everyone! Looks like this is it...

8:53:17 p.m. The stage goes from black to bright, Valentine's Day heart red and the curtain lifts to reveal the Dixie Chicks ... they're saying "Hello" by singing "Goodbye" ... "Goodbye Earl," in fact, from their 1999 blockbuster "Fly."

8:55:51 p.m. At first it was just Natalie, Emily and Martie onstage, standing close together on a kidney-shaped platform. As Natalie sang of Earl's deeds and his comeuppance, however, their seven-piece band rose on its own platform around them and both Martie and Emily started strolling down opposite walkways.

9:02:03 p.m. "Some Days You Gotta Dance" - the crowd takes the Chicks up on it. The group had to cancel a show last weekend in Cleveland due to Natalie Maine's sore throat, but she sounds just fine tonight. Her hair, on the other hand... She's got that teased-high and pulled back ponytail thing going again and it reminds us of all those punk rock kids in the early '80s who wanted to go for a mohawk look without actually committing to it...

9:05:25 p.m. Well, "There's Your Trouble," all right. Finishing that song, Natalie warns the crowd that she and Martie Maguire have "a lot of phlegm going on tonight." And you thought all the numbers we were throwing at you earlier was too much information! Even if she's feeling under the weather, Martie is playing some killer fiddle tonight, and backing Natalie up on "Long Time Gone."

9:09:19 p.m. Emily Robison switches from banjo to mandolin for some "Tortured, Tangled Hearts." Natalie has shed her guitar and we're squinting to see what her white, one-shouldered shirt says on the front. We'll get back to you on that. First we're taking a break to do some toe-tapping as sisters Emily and Martie trade solos.

9:11:40 p.m. Sheesh, take your eyes off the stage for a second and suddenly Emily's got her banjo again for one solo extra than Martie. Sibling rivalry?

9:16:30 p.m. The walkway glows emerald green and fans who were dancing a moment ago are now standing with arms linked and raised, swaying in time to "Travelin' Soldier." The song, from 2002's multiplatinum "Home," details a tragic long-distance love between two young people - one of whom is a soldier in Vietnam. The Dixie is in the details: images such as "a piccolo player in the marching band" crying alone under the stands as names of the dead are read during halftime make the characters the Chicks sing about real and their music that much more emotional.

9:17:23 p.m. The final notes of Martie's fiddle fade above the drummer's military tattoo. The song is over and the lights are out.

9:20:42 p.m. Hi Joan! Joan Osborne just popped back onstage to help Natalie with the lead on "Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)" ... is it because Natalie's throat hasn't healed fully? We can't say and actually, we don't care. It's just a hoot to see four talented women performing their hearts out. Somewhere, we hope Britney is watching and taking notes.

9:24:41 p.m. The stage turns into a wild mosaic of multicolored squares as Natalie says hello to Mr. Heartache. She and Emily let Martie handle the music while they two-step around the red, orange and blue squares. You could say they're, er, square-dancing to the tune, another selection from "Fly."

9:27:09 p.m. The stage is dark except for one spotlight on Natalie, reunited with her guitar for "Cold Day in July." At last, the walkway and rest of the stage are illuminated with a swirling pattern of white and gray and blue and we can see Emily and Martie flanking their lead singer.

9:32:56 p.m. "Some of the band took a day trip today and went by Jeffrey Dahmer's old house. Such wonderful sightseeing opportunities here in Milwaukee," says Martie by way of introducing a Brady Bunch-themed clip on the Chicks' back-up band. Mock the Bradys all you like, Chicks, but easy on the Milwaukee stereotypes and old wounds. Now, mention Laverne and Shirley and them's fightin' words!

9:34:04 p.m. We're done with the Dahmer jokes, thankfully, and it's straight into "White Trash Wedding," performed with the band standing beside the Chicks for the first time this evening.

9:39:20 p.m. The fast and furious fiddlin', dobro and banjo pickin' and bass pluckin' continues with "Lil' Jack Slade," from "Home."

9:42:37 p.m. Talk about a change in mood. The Chicks slow things down several gears and, along with the band, get out their acoustic instruments for the lament "A Home." Emily, Martie and Natalie sit on stairs along one of the walkways like city kids on a brownstone stoop as the band and a string quartet perform in shadow on the stage proper.

9:44:40 p.m. "Something happened to us three months ago - you might be aware of the incident," Natalie says to the crowd, which responds with applaused and boos in equal measure. "The incident was life-changing." It's the Chicks' first reference tonight to Natalie's comments about President Bush at a London show last March.

9:49:27 p.m. Tonight, Natalie explains that the Chicks recorded "Truth #2" - a song about, among other things, speaking your mind - without really appreciating what the song was about. Now, she adds, after "the incident," she says she has a whole new understanding of the Patti Griffin tune, which includes the line "You don't like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth." Overhead, the screen shows images of the struggle for civil rights, political and social rallies and record burnings.

9:52:46 p.m. Natalie's lone passing reference to the controversy that has overshadowed the Chicks' recent Grammy wins and stunning commercial success appears to be the only time the group will stop the show to acknowledge the vehement anti-Chicks backlash they're still feeling. After "Truth #2" it's right into "If I Fall You're Going Down With Me."

9:57:04 p.m. On the first few shows of the tour, the Chicks chose to acknowledge anger both within and beyond the country music community over Natalie's comments by giving fans 15 seconds to boo them - an offer, according to press reports, that only a small portion of each audience took them up on. Tonight, it seems that both the band and its fans have moved beyond the matter and are just here for the music.

10:00:26 p.m. With green grass rippling on the walkways below, courtesy of state of the art video, and blue skies on the screens overhead, Natalie pleads "Cowboy, Take Me Away" over the strains of Martie's fiddle. For now, Emily and her banjo hang back in shadow.

10:06:45 p.m. "How many of y'all saw us on the 'Fly' tour?" asks Emily. "A lot has changed since then," she adds, including becoming a mom. It's a fitting introduction for the lullaby "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)." Natalie is at stage center, sitting on a stool. The video walkway twinkles with stars. Martie and Emily take up positions at either end of the walkways that project right into the crowd. The rest of the stage is barely lit in purple.

10:11:08 p.m. We can't see any of the Chicks now - only starry stage and several enormous disco-style mirror balls fixed above them as the song ends. Then suddenly, it's daybreak, or as close as you can get to it inside the Bradley Center a couple hours before midnight. The stage is lit again in warm yellows and all three Chicks rise above their band on an elevated platform in the middle of the stage for "Landslide." The cover of the Stevie Nicks' classic helped propel "Home" to the top of both Country and Pop charts when "Home" was released in August 2002.

10:12:08 p.m. Three-foot-high flowers rise at the edges of the stage and "bloom," opening their petals as "Landslide" ends with a whisper.

10:14:02 p.m. "We've had a great time tonight, thanks for coming!" Natalie tells the crowd, which has been on its feet for two hours. But the Chicks aren't leaving the stage quite yet ... they are, however, leaving for some "Wide Open Spaces." The crowd favorite is the title track from their 1998 breakthrough album.

10:21:04 p.m. Ok, we never did figure out what Natalie's shirt said. Unlike her little anti-Toby Keith t-shirt a few weeks back, the lettering was too subtle. We were so intent on reading the darn thing, however, that we skipped over "Ready to Run" in the setlist a few minutes back. Sorry! We're going to blame Natalie's tendency towards sartorial statements for distracting us!

10:23:33 p.m. After many an air kiss and wave to the crowd as they take a victory lap or two around the stage, the Dixie Chicks disappear - the house is dark except for glow sticks and a few lighters waving in the crowd.

10:26:29 p.m. Singing "from the perspective of a man who's passed on and is looking back at his life," Natalie returns to the stage with Emily and Martie for "Top of the World."

10:29:46 p.m. As all three Chicks harmonize on the bittersweet lyrics of regret and faded memories, the video the group shot for the song plays overhead. The visuals are recognizable to all of us: children growing up, parents growing old. "We haven't been banned from tv yet, so you might see it there," Natalie quipped to the crowd before beginning the song.

10:34:10 p.m. The song ends with the spotlight on Martie, standing in the center of the seated string quartet, and an empty chair on the screens overhead. But don't think the Chicks are going out with a sad song. The final fiddle note has barely faded and all of a sudden the stage is a wild Las Vegas light show, flashing red and green in all directions. The crowd, silent before, is back on its feet and we're all riding on a "Sin Wagon."

10:36:45 p.m. As "Sin Wagon" crosses the finish line, the video walkways project a lake of fire. Streamers and confetti in orange, yellow and red drift down onto the crowd. Band members join the Chicks for a few group bows in all directions.

10:40:06 p.m. The house lights are up and the crowd is heading for the wide open spaces of area parking garages and lots. We wish everyone here tonight a safe trip home. Thanks to the Bradley Center staff and Dixie Chicks team for all their help in our real-time, riff-by-riff coverage. And thank you for joining us tonight - it was a great show for the fans and we're glad we had the chance to share it with you. The Chicks have left the building! Good Night!

Sounds Of Chicks' Nesting Pleases

Fans Ignore controversy for show's embrace of diversity within country

By Dave Tianen
Journal Sentinel

The Chicks that roared came to Milwaukee on Thursday night.

If the Dixie Chicks are indeed embroiled in their own brand of pre-emptive culture war, then there's little doubt that they captured the sold-out Bradley Center without a fight. It is perhaps a lesson for country radio that the young women between 15 and 25 who seem to make up the core of the Dixie Chicks' constituency don't seem to have wavered in their loyalties much at all. I don't know who they're ashamed of, but it's clearly not Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison.

Obviously the lines between pickin' and politics have blurred for the Dixie Chicks in recent months, but it seems clear they're done retreating in this particular scrap. They generally let the music talk for them Thursday night, but the music was ready to rumble.

They came onstage to the defiant clamor of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." It was a significant choice on several levels, an anti-war song that still booms patriotism and trumpets their estrangement from the country establishment.

One of the interesting things about the Chicks' much heralded and most recent album "Home" is that it was released months before the war in Iraq but still plays strongly to the attitudes that landed the Dixie Chicks in the cooker. "Travelin' Soldier" is a Vietnam fable about how war leaves wounds that never heal.

In introducing Patty Griffin's "Truth No. 2," Maines explained that initially they just liked the song but that recently they've come to understand it on a much deeper level. The song's first line is "You don't like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth." Lest anyone find that ambiguous, they accompanied the tune with video footage of such dissenters as Gandhi, Muhammad Ali and the Dalai Lama, and added footage of Nazi book burnings and their own albums being trampled.

Perhaps the most intriguing musical facet of the Dixie Chicks at this moment is their ability to simultaneously embrace and reject the sound and symbols of traditional country music. Their choice of covers skews rock. There was, of course, the massive hit remake of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" and another nod to Sheryl Crow's "Mississippi." Their choice of opening act was Joan Osborne, a robust, big-shouldered blues/rock stylist, but a singer without any readily discernible country influences.

With its big drums and slide guitar, "Cold Day in July" sounds like something Linda Ronstadt might have done 25 years ago. Indeed, Ronstadt's cross-fire of country and rock sensibilities seem at the core of the Chicks' aesthetic.

But on the other hand, the Chicks were playing bluegrass way before "O Brother," and "Home" is their most traditional album yet. "White Trash Wedding" has the mark of a hip Flatt and Scruggs update, and the instrumental nod to Maines' baby "Lil' Jack Slade" serves the bluegrass straight. "Hello Mr. Heartache" is the kind of anguished honky-tonk that Patsy Cline could have wrapped her aching heart around.

Attitudinally and culturally, the Dixie Chicks are rock 'n' roll. But their roots and their pedigree is country. How they resolve those tensions should make for interesting listening for years to come.

It certainly did Thursday.

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