My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Dixie Chicks Live: long time gone, but back once again

imageIf there was ever a time for Dixie Chicks to mount a comeback tour in the United States, it would be now, while we’re in the midst of the most decisive presidential election in our nation’s history. Dixie Chicks are a political band, for better or worse, and not just because they register folks to vote in the concession area before, during and after each show.

The election does play a role, albeit a small one, in this latest production. The MMXVI Tour, as it’s being called, exists to commemorate the watershed moment Natalie Maines replaced Laura Lynch as lead singer twenty years ago. The success that followed forever changed the trajectory of mainstream country music, although this show, fierce country-tinged rock, spends more time ignoring that legacy than honoring it.

The balance skewed Taking The Long Way-heavy (although “Easy Silence, complete with a lyrical video, and the unexpected and rarely performed “Silent House” were fabulous), which allowed banjos, fiddles and dobros to act as accents opposed to centerpieces for the majority of the evening. But this being a Dixie Chicks show, they honored their past with fiery renditions of “Sin Wagon,” “Wide Open Spaces,” “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” “Mississippi” and “Not Ready To Make Nice.” Lush renditions of “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Landslide” were also excellent, while the latter had a beautiful backdrop containing reflective images of the Chicks’ heads.

The rock theme was matched by the black and white set, minimal yet powerful, which hit you in the face with lights and sound as Dixie Chicks took the stage for the one-two punch of “The Long Way Around” and “Lubbock or Leave It.” They added significant muscle to the uptempos from Home, giving “Truth No. 2” and “Long Time Gone” a charge of energy unmatched by their humble acoustic beginnings.

The show is broken into two separate sections at the conclusion of highlight “Goodbye Earl,” and is bridged by a black-and-white car chase in which the ladies race to the sounds of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades.” They returned with the night’s strongest segment, an acoustic set that hinted at their beginnings (“Traveling Soldier” and “White Trash Wedding”) while nicely showing where they could go with a cover of Beyoncé’s “Daddy’s Lessons,” from her recently released Lemonade. (They excluded their brilliant reading of Patty Griffin’s “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida,” for obvious reasons). They concluded this portion with an instrumental they concocted that had Maines banging a single drum framed in bluegrass beats.

FullSizeRenderThey skewed the presidential race jib-jab style on “Ready To Run,” my favorite moment of the whole show, which ended with red, white and blue confetti festively blanketing the audience. The eluded to Donald Trump just twice more; giving him devil horns during “Goodbye Earl” and when Maines said she’d protect a bug that had flown on stage by ‘building a wall’ around it.

It actually wasn’t Trump, but the recently deceased Prince that dominated the evening. They set the stage for the evening with him singing “Let’s Go Crazy” (after a video about wrongly incarcerated inmates, Dixie Chicks trivia questions and a random selections of Maines’ always colorful tweets) and treated the crowd to a stunning cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that brought fourth unforeseen colors in Maines’ voice soaked in a backdrop of his giant purple symbol. They ended the evening with Ben Harper’s “Better Way,” which they dedicated to the Pulse Nightclub victims in Orlando.

This Mansfield, MA stop on their tour was my fourth time seeing Dixie Chicks live. I saw them open for George Strait in 1999 and headline their own Top of The World (2003) and Accidents and Accusations (2006) tours. I was supposed to see them open for Eagles in 2010 at Gillette Stadium, but an unforeseen engagement got in the way. Each show has been dramatically different from the last, providing its own distinct flavors and textures.

While I’ll likely always regard their 2003 outing as their finest, this show wasn’t without considerable charms. The Chicks haven’t lost an ounce of the spunk they’ve cultivated over the past twenty years. They may have been pushing a bit too hard – the show was much louder than it needed to be – but the true essence of Dixie Chicks came through wonderfully. They’ve only gotten better, which is a testament to their incredible prowess. Ten years was a long time, but it was certainly worth the agonizing wait.

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21 responses to “Dixie Chicks Live: long time gone, but back once again

  1. Stan Zorin June 22, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    I never understood why there was a ‘controversy’ about Natalie’s remark that they are ashamed that Bush Jr. is also from Texas. The same Bush who, a few years later, was told by the Republican party elders that he should not come to the national Republican convention because he would not be welcomed there. So even decent people in the Republican party were ashamed to be associated with him. The vindictivness of those grossly ignorant and uneducated, almost on the level of being subhuman, killed the Dixie Chicks’ music life..

    • luckyoldsun June 23, 2016 at 3:32 am

      “…those grossly ignorant and uneducated, almost on the level of being sub-human…”

      That’s a real measured, proportionate and non-“vindictive” way of talking about people with whom you have a strong disagreement.
      Seems there are a lot of things you “never understood.”
      Sheesh.

  2. Ken June 22, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    That debate will continue forever. What fueled the controversy was that several major broadcast companies run by right-wing corporations (huge Bush supporters) banned the Chicks from ALL of their country stations. Granted there was blowback from many listeners especially in southern markets where Natalie’s comments were viewed as blasphemy. But individual radio stations under those corporate owners weren’t allowed to make that decision based on their local market and were forced to remove all Chicks songs from their playlists by corporate edict. In many other regions of the U.S. those comments were not viewed as negatively. But to me the scary part was the banning of their music. This was a warning sign that concentrating too many broadcast companies in the hands of just a few big owners could result in this type of censorship. What is sad is that few on the right saw anything wrong with it and their silence was deafening. Whether or not you agree with the comment does not justify a blanket ban of their recordings. That episode reminded me of the famous quote by Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  3. Razor X June 23, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Sorry, but I have to disagree here. The Dixie Chicks have no one to blame but themselves for the predicament they found themselves in. The initial remarks would have been forgiven and forgotten had Maines apologized and later retracted it and then went out of her way to offend as many country music fans as possible.. She has her right to free speech but the public also has a right not to support celebrities that offend them. The First Amendment guarantees us to a right to free speech without reprisals from the government; there is no protection against any such reprisals from private individuals or the free market.

    The Dixie Chicks said they no longer wanted to be considered part of the country music world. So if you’re going to make a pronouncement like that, don’t complain when your records don’t get played on country radio.

    As for the Nazi references — there is a world of difference between mass genocide and not playing someone’s music on the radio. Let’s not trivialize the horrors that Holocaust victims endured by making such comparisons.

    • Ken June 23, 2016 at 10:57 am

      Agreed that everyone has a right to free speech. And that anyone who exercises it may have to pay the consequences for that privilege. Natalie felt strongly about what she felt. To say that she should have apologized and asked forgiveness when she truly did not feel that way would have been dishonest. She had a right to her opinion and her feelings. However she was backed into a corner and she fought back. Can’t blame her for that. She felt betrayed by those that did not agree with her views but did not support her right to say them. Sometimes you need to fight for your beliefs and your principles. I give her credit for standing her ground and not offering an insincere apology. Criticizing the President is as old as our democracy and doing so should never be punished.

      My point was that huge radio conglomerates that owned dozens of radio stations made a unilateral decision to ban the Chicks music regardless of what their listeners in those individual towns and cities desired. Consider that for a moment. The airwaves are owned by the public not those companies. They are given a license by the government but they do not technically own the frequencies. Also the radio industry is not a completely “free” market because there is a limited universe of radio stations and huge blocks of them are controlled by just a few corporate conglomerates. In some towns the majority of signals emanate from one corporate owner so an open “free market” no longer exists for folks in those regions.

      You completely misinterpreted the Martin Niemöller quote in the context of this issue. His words have great significance regarding any issue involving social injustice or persecution. The point is that if you stay silent to injustices done to others that do not directly affect you then one day when an injustice is be done to you who will stand up for you?

      • Razor X June 23, 2016 at 11:32 am

        What injustice? She did offer an insincere apology and then later retracted it. Of course she had a right to her opinion, but she has to accept the consequences. If I go out and make a public speech that embarrasses my employer, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be looking for a new job soon.

        Radio station conglomerates have every right to decide what they will and will not play. We may not always agree with their choices — and in recent years I’ve RARELY agreed with their choices, but they have every right to run their business as they see fit. The Dixie Chicks (or any other artist) have no “right” to be heard on the radio, and the public has no “right” to hear them on the radio. What exactly are you proposing — that the government mandate who gets played on the radio? That would be a really fair system. We’ll just put Lois Lerner in charge and then politics will never enter into the equation.

        The Martin Niemöller quote has no relevance to this issue. The Dixie Chicks were not jailed or persecuted by the government for voicing their opinions. Theirs was a 100% self-inflicted wound. They were not victims. They had their say and could not handle it when the opposing side had its say.

        • Ken June 23, 2016 at 2:48 pm

          You don’t think that making the comment “….we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” and then having ALL of your recordings banned from radio station groups is an injustice? Really? Does that punishment fit the so-called crime? And that comment apparently did not embarrass their employer to any great extent as they were not dropped by their record label so I fail to see your point in that regard.

          Radio station conglomerates indeed have the right to decide what they will or will not play. My point is that they control too many radio stations and therefore can exert too much influence in a situation such as this. If a single radio station had significant outcry from their local listeners over a particular song or a performer and decided to drop that song or all of that performer’s music then the case can be made that the radio station is reacting to the desires of their local community. But in this situation local listeners did not choose. It was a corporate suit that decided for them and banned the Chicks music from every station in their chain because of their political agenda. Listeners from individual stations had no say. Apparently you’re OK with that. And no I am not advocating that there be a mandate of what gets played on the radio. That’s a totally ridiculous argument that I never made. And what on earth does Lois Lerner have to do with this discussion?

          The Chicks could easily have handled what the opposing side had to SAY. But response from the other side went beyond a verbal disagreement and took the form of unfair punishment. The Martin Niemöller quote is indeed appropriate because no one protested on the Chicks behalf because others in the industry that supported their right to free speech were afraid of having the same thing done to them. And that’s rather scary.

      • Leeann June 29, 2016 at 4:50 pm

        Could not agree with Ken’s comments more here! I’ll also add that what Maines said back then sounds extremely tame compared to things that are said about the President today. I would understand some backlash, but the backlash that they got did not fit the “crime.” Nowadays, a comment like that would get no response or at least just a passing note on a gossip blog.

  4. Razor X June 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    “You don’t think that making the comment “….we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” and then having ALL of your recordings banned from radio station groups is an injustice? Really?”

    Is it any less of an injustice when an artist is banned from radio station groups because they are too old or too country or too female? And actually, radio did eventually start playing some of the Dixie Chicks’ older music — it was the new music that they didn’t play. You know — music like “Not Ready To Make Nice” — the music they released AFTER they proclaimed that they no longer wanted to be considered country artists? Why would country radio play them if they were taking themselves out of the genre?

    “In this situation local listeners did not choose. It was a corporate suit that decided for them and banned the Chicks music from every station in their chain because of their political agenda. Listeners from individual stations had no say.”

    When was the last time local listeners had a say about anything that is played on the radio?

    It’s interesting that people on the left are always calling for boycotts when they don’t agree with something, and calling for people they don’t agree with to be fired or taken off the radio/TV airwaves — until it happens to one of their own and then suddenly it’s a great injustice.

    • Ken June 23, 2016 at 5:02 pm

      To me this isn’t a right vs left issue. It’s a right vs wrong issue. In this case it just happened to be right-wing guys that banned their songs. Would have been just as wrong if left-wing guys did it.

      Unfortunately all artists do have a life cycle and eventually “age out” of their genre. I’ve never liked that and it ain’t right but that’s just the way it goes. The audience changes over time and eventually younger acts replace the veteran performers. There’s only so much room on the stage and eventually someone has to go. As far as how music has changed I’m no fan of today’s shallow pop/rock stuff that is called country music either. But not playing an artist with a song deemed “too country” or that may be past their prime is quite different from suddenly rejecting all past and present recordings by one of the genres top current acts only because of something they said. It had nothing to do with the music and everything to do with somebody’s political agenda.

      One day the Chicks had their current song in rotation with many older titles in the oldies rotations then the next day nothing. They were a superstar act but were discriminated against because of a comment not because the quality of their music had declined. The vitriol and bitterness that followed the banning of their music led to “Not Ready To Make Nice” because country radio had coldly turned their back on them. Can’t say I blame ’em.

      You obviously agree that the corporate radio suits made the right choice because the Chicks comment was so egregious that it demanded that their music be banned. We’ll have to agree to disagree but that’s not my idea of what America or country radio should be and another reason why radio conglomerates should be broken up.

      Enjoyed the lively discussion.

      • luckyoldsun June 23, 2016 at 6:52 pm

        It’s hardly a shock that conservative country radio turned against a singer who expressed contempt for the (Republican) President during a war–and while on foreign soil, to boot. Country radio is hardly the be-all and end-all in the music business. The Dixie Chicks were not “banned” or “blacklisted” from the business and their popularity probably increased among more “progressive” or left-leaning segments.
        I also read that the different members of the group have had–and been raising–children with their respective spouses since the brouhaha erupted and that’s a reason that they stepped back from the limelight. Can’t argue with that.

    • Leeann July 1, 2016 at 10:14 am

      I think there’s a huge difference between somebody expressing shame about a President who has chosen to do things that one disagrees with than somebody expressing biggotted views about a group of people because they are something that they didn’t choose to be, such as a race other than white or a sexual orientation other than straight or a gender other than male.

      Also, I wouldn’t have a problem with radio not choosing to play “Not Ready to Make Nice”, but they stopped playing all of their music when it was critical for their career. Starting to play some of their older songs years after their career had already tanked thanks to radio banning their music and having CD crushing parties is hardly something to give radio credit for in this situation.

      • Razor X July 1, 2016 at 11:58 am

        “I think there’s a huge difference between somebody expressing shame about a President who has chosen to do things that one disagrees with than somebody expressing biggotted views about a group of people because they are something that they didn’t choose to be, such as a race other than white or a sexual orientation other than straight or a gender other than male.”

        Who did or did not get banned from country for any of that?

        “Also, I wouldn’t have a problem with radio not choosing to play “Not Ready to Make Nice”, but they stopped playing all of their music when it was critical for their career.”

        “Travelin’ Soldier” had just reached #1 before the controversy broke. After that “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” peaked at #48. It’s from their live album and “live” singles typically don’t do that well at radio. Next was “Top of the World” which did not chart. Two years later they released “I Hope”, which reached #53. The following year “Not Ready To Make Nice” reached #36, despite its in-your-face attitude and not really belonging on country radio anyway. So by my count, that’s a whopping two singles that country radio did not play before the Chicks announced that they were no longer country artists and one single that got some limited play after they departed the genre.

        • Leeann July 2, 2016 at 12:32 am

          While they had a couple of chart showings after the backlash, they were extremely low compared to the success that they had before the controversy.

  5. Hard Times June 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    I appreciate this review. I saw the Chicks on June 5 in suburban Chicago and came away with many of the same impressions.

    I, too, favored the more-acoustic section. Arena-rock has never been my thing, so I didn’t need that crushing wall of sound to have a good time. And it was a truly loud concert, with lyrics unintelligible at times. But I couldn’t not be there, and I will always love them. They remain amazing musicians, and the communal experience of being amid so many thousands of fans screaming their approval was good for my soul.

    It made me wonder where, exactly, all this support now comes from. I saw them in 2006, during the tour where they had to scale back, so it’s curious to me what has changed. I would welcome any theories. Clearly, pent-up demand has something to do with it. Still, the Chicks have not made new music or been in the headlines for 10 years, so it seems to me their fan base just as easily could have withered. But it didn’t. They clearly keep making new fans — I saw lots of young people who would have been in grade school when the Chicks were at their peak. I also wonder how many country music fans dropped them during the controversy but have now returned. Seems unlikely given how polarized the electorate is, but maybe that has happened. Of course, maybe the answer could be as simple as quality taking the day.

    • Ken June 23, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      Or maybe not that many fans actually rejected them in 2003 for their comment and still loved their music even though corporate radio stopped playing it.

  6. Erik North July 2, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    I wonder if anyone has considered that Natalie’s comment about being ashamed that Bush was from Texas was rather conveniently taken out of context by the media, right-wing and otherwise; they never seem to mention what she said BEFORE it: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all; we don’t want this war, this violence.” Not since John Lennon made his equally infamous statement (taken out of context as well, but also more than a little true at the time) in 1966 that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus had anything said by anyone in any genre of pop music created such a hideous firestorm in the media.

    Is it to say that a president, when he sends troops overseas into battle, cannot have his decision be questioned anywhere by anybody in the world or here at home just because it is supposedly “unpatriotic” to do so? Do all of our freedoms just automatically STOP when we go to war, because we don’t want to appear like we don’t “support the troops”? And since WHEN did support of one president’s mandate of going to war automatically equated with supporting the troops anyway? As the son of a veteran of two wars, Korea and Vietnam, that also sharply divided this nation along ideological and generational lines, I believe that those who so fervently supported Bush’s actions really should ponder these things in the FULL context of what Natalie actually said that night in London. And they should also remember what Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

    Under the present musical context of what the Dixie Chicks are doing right now, which would seem to be following in the footsteps of the Eagles and the rest of the 1970s country-rock movement, with some twists (covering Prince, Beyoncé, etc.), they seem to be doing all right for themselves. It may not be pre-Incident popularity, but whatever works for them, I for one am happy for.

  7. luckyoldsun July 2, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    The “F.U.T.K” and now “F.U.D.T” thing strikes me as rather juvenile. It would be a reason that I wouldn’t go see them if it was free. But I suppose they’ll just say “F.U.” to me.
    Hey, if their fans are into that, then good for them.

    • Leeann July 3, 2016 at 4:54 am

      Those may be juvenile, but projecting photo shopped photos of Natalie Maines and Saddam Hussein together is both juvenile and irresponsible, which is what was projected at Toby Keith concerts. I still listen to Toby Kieth music that I like though.

      As far as their current tour goes, I have a couple of friends who went to see them here where I live and they said that it’s the best concert that they’ve attended. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the show, however.

    • Ken July 3, 2016 at 12:17 pm

      That’s another sad byproduct of the current idiotic internet/twitter post first and think about it later culture. Nothing is off-limits no matter how coarse the language may be. Stuff that formerly would be said only in private is now published for all to see and it just ramps up the emotions on both sides. There is little respect for contrary opinions and no middle ground. Sadly that attitude has even been adopted by one of the major Presidential candidates that gives his opponents juvenile nick-names. We have reached a new low in American politics and it only seems to be getting worse. Unfortunately that vitriol is affecting the music industry and now you can’t even escape it at concerts which should be an escape from the daily political craziness.

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