The Dixie Chicks - Live in California

Bluegrass Doesn't Do Neon or Bikers

Music Reviews The Dixie Chicks
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Watching country music’s hottest female trio perched at center stage was a little like viewing a concert by the Biker Chicks, rather than the Dixie Chicks. Maybe this was due to the fact that each member of the group was dressed in straight black and white clothes, sporting dark eye makeup and roaming the stage in stiletto heels. Lead singer Natalie Maines, with her faux Mohawk hairdo and stern facial expression, may have been hesitant to see American soldiers duke it out in Iraq, but she certainly appeared to be spoiling for a catfight on Sunday night. Such an out of character look was just one of the reasons why the evening’s Dixie Chicks image was out of sync with its usual sunny concert ambiance.

Rather than setting up at one particular end of the arena, the Dixie Chicks chose to put the stage in the center of the floor so as to leave room for the winding ramps that extended from the stage. Such a setup might work for showbiz-y rock shows, but it doesn’t quite cut it with bluegrass. Granted, the Dixie Chicks are not any kind of a diehard bluegrass group, but the best moments of its latest Home album, such as the twangy single “Long Time Gone,” are about as traditional as contemporary country gets these days. The stage pathways were often lit up – one time with colorful squares just like the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever -- which only added to the show’s mounting overdose of visual stimulates.

For those who were able to block out all this eye candy and adjust to watching a Southern musical kaleidoscope, the Dixie Chicks still sounded as wonderful as always. Highlights included a rousing version of Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi,” and passionate playing on Maria McKee’s “Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)?” On the quieter side, Radney Foster’s “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” was particularly touching, and for once, the star-like lights that lit up the arena during the performance actually added appropriate visual effects. Because some great songs are just too good to spoil, “Travelin’ Soldier” and a video-accompanied performance of the new single “Top of The World” were also equally effective.

And just in case you were wondering, Maines did find time to refer to “the incident,” as she likes to call it, during the show. But rather than say anything that might further tarnish the group’s already damaged image, Maines thanked the audience for coming out and supporting the group, instead. Before the Dixie Chicks even took the stage, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding” by Elvis Costello, and “Born In The USA” by Bruce Springsteen were played over the PA, as obvious commentaries on the Chicks’ unique cultural situation. And when the group played "Truth No. 2," the big screens showed vintage clips of various social protests – from Civil Rights marches, to Abortion Rights rallies – as visual exclamation points.

Once the Dixie Chicks discover how to incorporate the intimacy they previously brought to their winning An Evening With The Dixie Chicks DVD into the much larger stadium setting, their shows will simply be unbeatable. But thankfully, even with all the show’s distractions -- neon and otherwise -- high quality music ultimately left the most lasting impression.