Sacramento, CA 2003

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photo by Brian Baer / Sacramento Bee

Live Review: Dixie Chicks at Arco Arena, Sacramento, CA
by Rob Evans, liveDaily editor
The term "outlaw country" conjures up visions of craggy faces like those of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. Or at least it used to. Now those faces are morphing into the--let's face it--much more appealing mugs of Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire.

Over the course of three albums in five years, the Dixie Chicks have sued their record company, released a controversial song in which the protagonist kills an abusive husband ("Goodbye Earl") and, perhaps most famously, spoken out against the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.

While such things wouldn't raise an eyebrow if the Chicks' chosen genre were rock or hip-hop, it might be enough to drive a buttoned-up Nashville exec to breakdown. Except for the little matter of the tens of millions of albums--and hundreds of thousands of concert tickets--that the trio sold along the way.

On Thursday (7/17) night, the Chicks left no doubt that their talent will allow them to continue to buck the Nashville establishment while still finding a mass audience. The trio--augmented by a solid eight-piece back-up band and, occasionally, a string section--blew through nearly two-dozen songs in two hours, flawlessly executing a diverse range of material before an adoring, sold-out crowd.

Taking the stage after Bruce Springsteen's defiant "Born in the U.S.A." blared over the arena speakers, the Chicks--as if to face the controversy head-on--launched into a tight rendition of "Goodbye Earl." The selection clearly was a hit with the heavily female-skewing audience, which was immediately on its feet and singing in unison.

While the crowd response was best for fun hits like "Long Time Gone," "Cowboy Take Me Away" and "Wide Open Spaces," it was the set's diversity that gave it punch.

Clad in a black micro-mini and a ripped pink tank top that read "Peace--Seek Tolerance," Maines was equally convincing delivering the Maria McKee cowpunk song "Am I the Only One" as the classic-country flavored "Hello Mr. Heartache," and was still able to conjure up more-nuanced vocals on songs like "Travelin' Soldier" and "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)." Though the group is well into a lengthy tour behind its 2002 album, "Home," Maines' strong voice showed no signs of wear.

Arco Arena is by no means known for friendly acoustics, but the Chicks and their crew managed to coax good sound from the building--though Maines' words were rarely discernible in the mix.

The entire crowd was no doubt wondering how Maines would deal with what she now calls "The Incident": while performing for a London crowd in March, as the U.S. was ramping up its war plans for Iraq, Maines said, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." A firestorm of controversy erupted that resulted in the Chicks' music being banned from the playlists of many country radio stations, including at least one entire network of stations.

Nonetheless, Maines didn't duck the situation. While introducing the song "Truth No. 2," Maines said that she and her bandmates named their current outing the "Top of the World" tour to represent how they felt after notching a series of hit albums, successful tours and awards.

"But after the incident, we thought about calling it the 'Farewell' tour," Maines said with a chuckle. "But you're here, and that's because we have the greatest fans in the world."

"Truth No. 2,"--a Patty Griffin-penned song that opens with the lines "You don't like the sound of the truth/Comin' from my mouth," was augmented by a video-screen montage of various U.S. protest movements, from civil rights and women's suffrage marches to various book burnings and CD crushings.

Perhaps to the surprise of the radio programmers who recently shunned the group, the display did not instigate a great rush for the exits. In fact, the song received some of the loudest cheers of the night.

Sacramento Becomes Dixie Land For A Night

By Dixie Reid -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

It's been a little over four months since Natalie Maines told a London audience that she and her fellow Dixie Chicks, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, were embarrassed to share their Lone Star roots with George W. Bush.

As Maines put it that night: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

America was about to go to war in Iraq, and Maines' little confession didn't set well with the historically patriotic country-music audience back home. Radio stations quit playing their No. 1 single "Traveling Soldier," a song set during the Vietnam War, and conservative radio hosts happily lambasted the trio.

Things finally seem to have settled down. The Dixie Chicks' "Top of the World" Tour, which moved into Arco Arena on Thursday night, was a wild and happy sellout.

And it wasn't until she introduced "Truth No. 2," the 13th number in a 20-song set, that Maines mentioned "the incident."

"Well, uh," she said, "we named the tour 'Top of the World,' and what a great world we had: three Grammys and a No. 1 song. We felt on top of the world. I'm not sure if anyone is aware of the incident that occurred four months ago. We thought about renaming this 'The Farewell Tour,' but we're here 'cause we've got the greatest fans in the whole wide world."

The Dixie Chicks have encountered a few protesters in other cities on this tour, but the Sacramento audience seemed absolutely smitten with them. One woman even showed up with a homemade sign declaring "Support Our Chicks," and more than a few "Free Natalie" T-shirts were in evidence. Maines wore a pink tank-top decorated with the word "peace."

This is one of the top-grossing concerts of the summer, and the Dixie Chicks went all out on the production. Their in-the-round stage consisted of a split-level configuration with a winding catwalk. For the Bob Dylan song "Mississippi," it doubled as the Big Muddy, and stage hands set out pots of what passed for river rushes along its "banks."

As the night went on, they set out a spinning windmill, dropped a huge cloth "tree" from the lighting bank and shot off enough confetti for a New York ticker-tape parade. And all the while, the Dixie Chicks danced, pranced, sang and played their music.

Maines, who still does most of the talking, introduced "Top of the World," the band's next release from the "Home" album.

"We made a video," she said. "We haven't been banned from TV yet."

Pop singer Michelle Branch has been on tour with the Dixie Chicks for the past month and was the advertised opening act for Thursday's show. No explanation was given for her absence.

Filling in was pop-folk singer and songwriter Shawn Colvin, who performed solo -- on that huge stage -- with an acoustic guitar. If the crowd was disappointed not to see Branch, they didn't let on during Colvin's 40-minute set. The highlight was Colvin's performance of her biggest hit, "Sunny Came Home."

It was a perfect fit with the Dixie Chicks' opening song, "Goodbye Earl," another ditty about a murder.

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