Originally published in UWeekly (July 2006)
Save for the intro music that accompanied the Dixie Chicks as they took the Schottenstein Center stage (“Hail to the Chief”), there was no mention of the political controversy the trio caused in 2003 when lead singer Natalie Maines announced that she was ashamed to be from the same state as the President. And the near-capacity Columbus crowd couldn’t have cared less.
With a performance that rivaled a Bon Jovi show from the late ‘80s, the Dixie Chicks put politics aside on this evening to deliver a thoroughly entertaining two-hour, 23-song performance. Maines was clearly the star of the show, commandeering the stage despite being backed not only by the other two Chicks, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, but by the accompaniment of nine other musicians, including former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed. Though she may have been the shortest musician on stage, Maines nevertheless was the focal point and comes across as one of the most likeable, down-to-earth women in music today.
The Dixie Chicks ran through an arsenal of hits that span the trio’s last four albums and found the perfect meeting spot between mainstream pop-rock and Nashville-style country music which explains how they can manage to land on both charts simultaneously. This too explains why the crowd was a nice mix of cowboy-hat wearing folks and young urban professionals – the Dixie Chicks play the type of music that people from all walks of life can relate to.
Maines didn’t do much talking between songs, but when she did the audience responded with a deafening roar that got louder and louder each time she acknowledged the rabid fans. She commented that if she’d known how wild the crowd was going to be, the Dixie Chicks would have started their tour in Columbus which, of course, led the crowd to respond with a cheer that is usually reserved for the last few seconds of a Buckeye Bowl Game victory.
The most non-country moment came halfway through the set when the Dixie Chicks performed their current single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” (co-written by Semisonic’s Dan Wilson) which is a reaction to the microscope the trio has been put under since speaking out against President Bush. As the song reached a frenzied climax it packed all the emotion and power of one of those smash radio hits that Aerosmith has been known for in the last 10 years.
While a majority of the set list was derived from the trio’s most recent release, 2006’s “Taking the Long Way,” Maines, Maguire, and Robison did kick back and cut loose with some plain ol’ fun numbers such as “Goodbye Earl,” “White Trash Wedding Ring,” and the barnyard stomper, “Sin Wagon.”
For the encore, the trio returned to the stage without the backing band and performed a stripped-down and quiet version of “Travelin’ Soldier” from 2002’s “Home”. The rest of the band returned for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi” and rounded out the evening with “I Hope,” the final track from the new record.
The cities that didn’t support the Dixie Chicks by buying tickets to upcoming shows – a handful of which have been cancelled due to poor ticket sales – missed out on a well-executed, tightly produced, entertaining show that broke down the wall between pop-rock and country music. And based on the love the trio received in Columbus, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them back here before the year is over.