By Brian Ives
“Don’t wait ten years to invite us back,” Natalie Maines exclaimed towards the end of the Dixie Chicks’ two-hour concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden last night (June 13). “My goodness!”
By that point in the show, the capacity audience had been whipped into too much of a frenzy to laugh at the illogical statement. Surely, the Dixie Chicks’ fans in New York, and elsewhere, would have loved to have seen the country trio during the past decade. The truth is, the Chicks simply weren’t working. Maines released a solo album and toured, while sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer recorded and toured as the Court Yard Hounds.
But the time away has done nothing to lessen the enthusiasm of their fans for the band, judging by the volume of the crowd. At about 8:40, the lights dimmed and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” played over the PA; then the Chicks hit the stage to “The Long Way Around,” from their most recent album, 2006’s GRAMMY-winning Taking the Long Way. Dressed in black and white and bathed in white light on a stark stage, they went through a number of their beloved songs, including “Lubbock or Leave It,” “Truth #2,” “Easy Silence” and “My Favorite Year,” with Maguire and Strayer beaming the entire time. One gets the impression that while they may have enjoyed their time as the Courtyard Hounds, their hearts are with Maines and the Dixie Chicks catalog. And both Maguire and Strayer dazzled on their instruments throughout the night, the former on violin and the latter mostly on banjo and slide guitar. Maines, who expressed ambivalence about the group during her solo interviews, seemed to be enjoying herself as well.
The first surprising cover was heralded by purple lights and Prince’s logo projected onto the screen; they paid tribute to Prince with a cover of his “Nothing Compares 2 U.” They then closed the first set with a rocking “Goodbye Earl,” as images of men (including Donald Trump and Chris Brown) were projected onto the screen.
Then we saw a film with the three Chicks racing in cars in a scene that looked like it was taken from Sin City, soundtracked to a country instrumental version of, of all things, Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.”
After that, the ladies came to the front of the stage to start a stripped down set which included “Travelin’ Soldier,” and a surprising cover of Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” from her current album Lemonade.
Soon they returned to their full arena setup for a handful of other songs, including their covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” and a rocking take on Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi.”
Oddly, Maines had said little to the crowd throughout the night, allowing the music to do the talking, although they poked fun at nearly everyone who attempted to run for President in a jib-jab style video that played during “Ready to Run.”
The encore kicked off with “Not Ready to Make Nice,” a song reminding the audience of how outspoken Maines once was, and what it cost her, and the group (see the documentary Shut Up and Sing if you don’t remember that little bit of history).
And then, Maines mentioned the actions of an “a–hole” earlier in the week, saying, “We’ve got to put more positivity in the universe to counter balance all these crazy nut jobs! We’re gonna do that by chanting this song at the top of our lungs!” They then launched into one final song, and one that the audience may not have been familiar with : Ben Harper’s “Better Way,” which provided the most powerful moment of the evening.
Surely Maines (and Maguire and Strayer) have thoughts about Donald Trump that they could have shared from the stage, but they mostly kept them to themselves. After having been put through the ringer for expressing an opinion about President Bush, their “better way,” in 2016, seems to be to let the music (and some of the images in their stage show) do the commentary for them. This time around, the Dixie Chicks were enjoying being a bona-fide arena headlining act. Needless to say, after tonight’s show, they’ll certainly be “invited” back to NYC, and it’s likely that they’ll be filling up Madison Square Garden or other local arenas for a long time.