Phoenix, AZ 2003

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Dixie Chicks Brush Off Critics, Serve Up Hot Show

Larry Rodgers, The Arizona Republic

Phoenix music fans who were mad at the Dixie Chicks for singer Natalie Maines' crriticism of President Bush in March have either gotten over it or they decided to stay away from America West Arena on Friday night.

While a few boos have been heard at the Grammy-winning trio's concerts in some other cities in reaction to Maines' opposition to America's invasion of Iraq, the vibes were all good during the group's well-paced, two-hour show before a sold-out Valley audience.

The shower of screams and applause that greeted Maines and sisters Emily Robison (banjo) and Martie Maguire (fiddle) when they took the stage after a loud version of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A . (which was written as an anti-war ballad) eventually was matched by the star power and top-notch musicianship of this adventurous Texas group.

Decked out in glamorous outfits and strutting around a huge circular stage with the confidence of Charlie's Angels, Maines, Robison and Maguire dished out both eye and ear candy as they sampled all three of their albums, backed by several bluegrass-savvy musicians.

They shifted smoothly through musical gears from the driving rock of 1999's Some Days You Gotta Dance to the spunky country of 1998's There's Your Trouble to the hillbilly ranting of last year's White Trash Wedding. They approached "the incident," as Maines called it, head-on (after clever pre-show tunes including the Go-Gos' Our Lips Are Sealed and Wings' Band on the Run).

About two-thirds of the way through their set, Maines introduced the group's cover of Patty Griffin's Truth No. 2 by saying, "It's all about freedom of speech."

As Maines -- who had her hair up in a modified B-52's-style do and started the evening in a pink jacket, black skirt and boots with spiked heels -- sang the song's opening line, "You don't like the sound of the truth / Comin' from my mouth, the crowd jumped up to applaud loudly.

Video screens showed film clips of peace and civil-rights marches, feminist and gay-rights banners and speakers such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, and flashed messages such as "Speak up," "Freedom" and "Tolerance." But the Dixie Chicks didn't dwell on the controversy, following that multimedia display by blasting through If I Fall You're Going Down With Me, which has hardly a hint of country.

Although the trio has made a fortune by blurring the lines between pop and country, they seemed to enjoy the down-home jams the most on Friday.

Long Time Gone, from last year's Home CD, got rootsy treatment early on, spotlighting the fiddle work of Maguire, who wore tight pants, a colorful top and spiked heels, and the banjo of Robison, looking sleek in a sparkling black pants outfit, and yes, spiked boots also.

Tortured Tangled Heart sparked a big-time bluegrass rave-up, featuring the splendid picking of bandleader David Grissom.

The show's many highlights included a tender reading of Radney Foster's Godspeed (Sweet Dreams ) and a preview of the dramatic video for Top of the World, which depicts an old man's regrets.

The few missteps included an over-the-top video that had the three floating around in the clouds during their cover of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide and a sped-up version of Bob Dylan's Mississippi that blurred the song's poetry.

Arizona's Michelle Branch did an admirable job of fighting sound problems during her opening set, which included pop-rock favorites such as Everywhere and All You Wanted.

Branch's upbeat stage presence and rocking band connected well with the country-leaning Chicks' audience. With her family in attendance, Branch, who said she had found time for a quick trip to Sedona, ended on a high note with her latest hit, Are You Happy Now?, from her new Hotel Paper album.

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