Albany, NY 2003

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photo by Tom Killips / The Saratogian

Chicks Emerge From The Hen House With Feathers Flying At The Pepsi

by Tom Heffernan, The Saratogian

The Dixie Chicks landed at Albany's Pepsi Arena Friday night for the latest stop in their "Top of the World" tour.

The area surrounding the Pepsi was jam-packed in the hour leading up to the show. Cowboy hats were in plentiful supply as the crowd migrated toward the doors.

Despite the bottlenecks that formed at the security checkpoints, enthusiasm for the Chicks was high. With the huge commercial success they have found since their last tour, and their newly emerging rebel attitude, the Dixie Chicks were sure to attract more than a few curious fans.

In fact, there was hardly an empty seat in the arena when they finally took the stage. Rising from below the stage, lead singer Natalie Maines, banjo and guitar player Emily Robinson and fiddler Martie Maguire appeared.

They opened with a powerful rendition of "Goodbye Earl," a song about two female friends who decide to kill an abusive husband. The disproportionately female crowd ate it up. The rest of the band rose from below the center of the round stage as the music kicked into full throttle.

As the Chicks moved all over the gigantic stage, complete with extending platforms and runways, they interacted with the crowd as if they were in a smaller club.

Robinson and Maguire, especially, made frequent gestures to audience members, waving and shaking hands while smiling constantly. Maines seemed a little more distant from the crowd, but her intensity came through as much in her voice as it did in her Army fatigue outfit and New Wave/punk-meets-mullet hairstyle.

For audience members stranded in the upper balcony, large-screen monitors displayed close-up footage interspersed with special effects.

The band covered a few older tunes before launching into material from its newest Grammy-winning album, "Home." Highlights included "Long Time Gone," "Tortured Tangled Hearts" and the crowd sing-along "Travelin' Soldier."

The biggest disappointment of the night was the missing high harmony of Martie Maguire. With a hoarse voice, she apologized to the crowd and promised to make it up with her fiddling.

The show would not have been complete without Maines' touching on the topic of her now-famous controversial comment about President Bush. She called it a "life-changing" experience and praised freedom of speech before breaking into another new song, "Truth No. 2."

After saying goodnight with "Wide Open Spaces," the Dixie Chicks were summoned back to the stage by a thunderous ovation.

For an encore, they performed "Top of the World," which Natalie described as her favorite song on the new album. The string section shone on this number, while a bizarre video accompanied the music.

They closed with the wild "Sin Wagon," leaving the audience buried in confetti, which rained down on the arena. The Dixie Chicks managed to leave the fans feeling as if they were a big part of the performance.

Emerging star Michelle Branch opened the show with a short set featuring some material from her brand new album "Hotel Paper."


Chicks Use Music To Conquer Pepsi
By Michael Eck, Special to the Times Union
Martie Maguire was feeling a little hoarse Friday night, but she didn't want to bag out on the big show. "So if we sound like The Judds," singer Natalie Maines quipped, "now you know why."
Actually the Dixie Chicks did sound a bit like The Judds at their sold-out Pepsi Arena concert, but only because the trio's crack stage band -- led by stellar guitarist David Grissom -- was every bit as sharp as the older act's legendary touring unit.
Everything from the crackling "Cowboy Take Me Away" to a thrumming cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" to the delicate, string-quartet-driven shimmer of "A Home" sounded wonderful, conquering even the tinny acoustics of the Pepsi.
The Chicks, togged out in new punk chic, held the wall-to-wall crowd in the palm of their collective hand from the moment they took the big stage.
That's not hard when you have an opening tune as strong as "Goodbye Earl" and a closer as walloping as "Sin Wagon."
Despite recent turmoil over Maines' political views, the Chicks have changed the face of country music of late; and the women have done it by playing music of great melody, integrity and attitude.
Heck, "Earl's" radical-feminism-with-a-wink irked some folks right out of the box.

Maines didn't make a big deal out of the protests stemming from a less-than-friendly political remark she made at a March concert, but she did allude to the fracas in the intro to Patty Griffin's "Truth #2," saying, "We didn't really know what this song was about when we put it on the album, now we understand every word."
Griffin (who will appear in Schenectady's Central Park on July 20) is only one of a number of fine writers that the Chicks have exposed to a wider audience. At the Pepsi, the trio also offered tunes by Maria McKee ("Am I The Only One"), instrumentalist Emily Robison's husband Bruce ("Travelin' Soldier"), Radney Foster ("Godspeed") and some guy named Bob Dylan (a fine reading of "Mississippi").

And as Maguire promised, she made up for her lack of harmonizing with plenty of hot fiddling, especially on the instrumental workout "Lil' Jack Slade."

The production end of the Chicks show was impressive on its own with full video screens, theatrical drops and a stage that allowed the musicians to roam around the edges.

It's doubtful anyone left feeling they hadn't gotten their money's worth.

Young pop phenom Michelle Branch opened with a bright set that focused on her new album "Hotel Paper," which was released on Tuesday.

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