Buffalo, NY 2003

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photo by Mark Mulville / Buffalo News

Dixie Chicks' Talent Knows No Boundaries
By Jeff Miers, Buffalo News

Occasionally, the cream actually does rise to the top.

Friday evening, Texas country outfit the Dixie Chicks offered a two-hour testament to the timelessness of old-school country before a capacity crowd in HSBC Arena. The Chicks have sold millions of records, but they specialize in honest-to-goodness country and bluegrass music, with only occasional concessions to the pop idiom.

Once upon a time, country, folk, rock and pop could be heard back-to-back on the radio. It's doubtful the Chicks remember this time, but they play music in such a fashion as to suggest they were born knowing that music should acknowledge no boundaries. Throughout their set Friday, the Chicks blasted through whatever preconceived notions one might have concerning musical "propriety" and idioms.

Bluegrass butted heads with rock. Pop met Texas country. Bakersfield soul downed a cold one with Delta blues. And it all worked. The band - leaders Natalie Maines (guitar/vocals), fiddler and mandolin player Martie Seidel and dobro/banjo/acoustic guitar player Emily Robison - was augmented by a stellar cast of country and rock cats, among them former John Mellencamp guitarist Dave Grissom, bassist Roscoe Beck, mandolinist Brent Bruitt and pedal steel player extraordinaire Robbie Turner.

It's true that modern country music is reallly just Top 40 pop with a Southern accent. But the Chicks don't fit into that particular cubbyhole. These are serious ladies with a deep country pedigree, a virtuosic instrumental capability, and the ability to harmonize like they were put on this earth for just that purpose.

From the beginning, it was clear that this band outshines every other country act on the charts.

Maines, toting a Fender Precision bass and looking like a female version of the Clash's Joe Strummer during the "Combat Rock" era, led the band through a stirring take on the megahit "Goodbye Earl." The brilliant tunes flew fast and furious. This band was so tight, so passionate and so seemingly at ease with its material that the set had an elegant flow few modern rock or pop shows can boast.

"Long Time Gone," "Travelin' Soldier," "A Home," "Tortured, Tangled Hearts," "There's Your Trouble" and a host of cuts from the band's three major-label albums went by in the blink of an eye.

Of course, Maines addressed what she called "the incident" - the controversy surrounding her remarks at a London concert that suggested she was "embarrassed" to be from the same state as President Bush - and the response was rather surprising.

Hardly anyone booed. The arena erupted in applause, and the band launched into the visceral "Truth No. 2," while a slide show tracing civil rights struggles over the course of the last century in this country and others played on four video screens high above the in-the-round stage.

As the song ended, the words "seek the truth" flashed on the screens. The place went nuts.

Another highlight involved opener Joan Osborne, who joined the Chicks for a soul-stirring "Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)."

Osborne's opening set was stunning. Her voice blew the doors off the place; sweet, soulful, a blend of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin, Osborne's pipes commanded attention and respect. She was simply smoking as she tackled her biggest hit, "One of Us," a sweltering take on Gary Wright's '70s gem "Love Is Alive," and a version of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" that brought a tear to this writer's eye. (No kidding.)

In all, a night of beautifully played country, folk and soul music - the sort that sticks equally to the ribs, the heart and the memory.

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