In October, the band now known as The Chicks, once known as The Dixie Chicks, forever known as the ones whose career got three shades of shit pounded out of it by the knuckleheads of right-wing America and the cowards of country radio for standing up the second dumbest man to be president, will be back in the country.
Back 20 years pretty much to the day – when the historically racist Dixie hadn’t yet been purged and that president was contemplating a second term – the trio defied our own right-wing knuckleheads for a series of shows. The last they would perform here for almost 15 years.
It wasn’t like it had been. It never would be again.
Superdome, October 4, 2003
Last month, when Billy Bragg talked to his Sydney audience about peace, fairness and corrupt lying governments, he was the first to acknowledge he was “reaching to the converted”. (Though no one should forget that he converted many of them originally.)
It’s a little different when the Dixie Chicks play Elvis Costello’s version of (What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love And Understanding before they enter the stage. And when singer Natalie Mains introduces the Patty Griffin song Truth No. 2 (that opens with “You don’t like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth”) by saying that the song has taken on extra significance for them since March 10 - when Mains’ comments critical of Dubya Bush’s war agenda led right wing nuts to ban and burn their records.
And certainly different when that song is accompanied by videos of protest marches (from women’s suffrage to pro-choice) and the burning of books and records by zealots in Nazi Germany and bible-belt USA.
The Dixie Chicks audience that packed out the Superdome is as safe and comfortable a group of consumers as you’ll find. Questioning governments is not – is never - on their agenda and woe betide artists who agitate. But the Dixie Chicks slipped in their little bit of subversive independent thinking nonetheless, as if saying we’re not so different to Bragg you know.
Sure, in a big production show these were small gestures that may have been too subtle for some. But as with much of their concert – and their career – it showed how the Chicks cleverly walk the line between the obvious, “smart”, commercial choice in this most conservative of genres, and the flash of independence.
They can fit in something as smoothly pop/country as There’s Your Trouble or Am I The Only One but also accommodate Patty Griffin songs, an Irish folk flavoured bluegrass tune such as More Love, or the high-stepping silliness of White Trash Wedding.
They can pump up the show we’ve enjoyed in more intimate theatres on previous tours with screens, carefully worked stagecraft for a wider stage and a band that stretches to 15 musicians at times. But, except for a too-crowded Landslide, that lacked air around their harmonies, they hold true and don’t clutter up the songs.
Of course, they’re slick, and you do hunger for a full tilt at their roots rather than the mix and match of pop and country, but for a mainstream act as successful as they are the Dixie Chicks still feel real, still entertain royally and still have a brain.
When commercial realities rule, none of those can ever be taken for granted.
The Chicks play:
Adelaide Entertainment Centre Arena, October 12
A Day On The Green, Mt Duneed Estate, Geelong, October 14
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne (sold out) October 16
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, October 19
A Day On The Green, Bimbadgen, Hunter Valley, October 21
A Day On The Green, Sirromet Wines, Mt Cotton, October 22
Brisbane Entertainment Centre, (sold out) October 24