San Antonio, TX 2003

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phoyo by John Davenport / Express News

Dixie Chicks' Talent Overrides Controversy

Songs and talent overpowered any residual controversy at the Dixie Chicks concert at the SBC Center Tuesday night.

If lead singer Natalie Maines hadn't brought it up, probably none of the fans would have, either, as song after song the Texas trio proved once again why they're one of the most popular groups around.

Kicking off the show with a killer version of the murderous "Goodbye Earl," the Chicks had the audience eating out of their hands. By the fifth song, they were flexing their bluegrass muscles with fine playing by Emily Robison on banjo and sister Martie Maguire on fiddle. By the 10th, they kicked it up several notches with "White Trash Wedding" and the instrumental "Lil' Jack Slade," when the band went acoustic and the audience went wild over the fiery picking.

The acoustic portion slowed for "Home," when Maines, Maguire and Robison sat on the stage's steps for the trio's trademark harmonies, some of the sweetest in the business.

But Maines, with blond hair swept back like an ersatz punk rocker and wearing a black vest, black short skirt and black stockings, could not seem to resist bringing up the comment she made about being ashamed President Bush is a fellow Texan. Referring to it as "the incident," she was greeted by choruses of cheers and boos.

She later introduced "Top of the World" by saying, "We made a video for this song. We have not been banned from television yet." It was a reference to radio stations pulling their songs for a while after "the incident."

The staging was innovative. The band anchored the center while the stage encircled them and meandered around almost the entire floor.

It was lighted from the bottom with ever-changing colors and designs like a psychedelic yellow brick road, and separately and together the trio strolled along, strumming and singing to every corner of the arena.

The anthemic "Ready To Run" put most of the audience on their feet and kept them there till the end.

The girl power evening began with Grammy-winning pop sensation Michelle Branch, who opened with a 40-minute set of 1970s rock-influenced songs from her double platinum debut album "The Spirit Room" and her just-released "Hotel Paper."

But it was apparent from the polite but lackluster applause that this was a Dixie Chicks crowd.

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