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November 25, 2006

Shut Up and LISTEN

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard a Dixie Chicks song. I mean, not just heard on the radio as background noise, but really, truly heard their music. It was the fall of 1998; I was in my freshman year of junior college, off-roading with my friend Joe in his gray Jeep Cherokee through the orange groves after class (and you thought there was nothing to do in Riverside). He put Wide Open Spaces in the CD player, and said, "There's this really good song you have to hear," as the opening chords of "You Were Mine" filtered through the truck's speakers. The lines, "He's two and she's four, and you know they adore you" ripped through my heart like nothing else ever had, and the very next CD purchase I made was Wide Open Spaces.

Much later, I realized that that was one of the defining moments that made me want to work in music. I wanted to be that person saying to others, "You have to hear this song." I remember purchasing the subsequent Chicks albums (Fly and Home) the day they arrived in stores. By the time Taking the Long Way was released, I was high enough on the radio food chain to not only get a free copy, but an advance, even. A nice little bookmark for career progress.

And while some would critize the Chicks for the progress of their own careers, many more would celebrate their progress as artists, as evidenced by their just-about-sold-out show at the Staples Center Friday night. In short: they've come a long way from the days of "pink feather cowboy hats," as Martie put it. Their audience, which four years ago, would have been comprised primarily of droves of fifteen year old girls linked arm in arm, or seven year old girls accompanied by their mothers, is now made up of a much more mature, NPR - type audience, gay men, hipsters, and plenty of stars, including Gregory Peck's wife, Benjamin Bratt, and Laura Dern. Reports were that Natalie Maines' husband Adrian Pasdar had bought 400 tickets for stars and staff of his TV show, "Heroes," and two windows at the box office were devoted exclusively for "Adrian's Heroes" to pick up their tickets.

Although the show opened with an instrumental rendition of "Hail to the Chief," before launching into "Lubbock or Leave It" from Taking the Long Way, this was not a political show, outside the music, and with the exceptions of Natalie's fleeting references to "The Incident."

This was also not a show about theatrics, spectacle, or pyrotechnics. Production elements, although not sparse, were relatively simple, and did nothing to distract from the music. No flying over the audience, no costume changes, no magic acts. Likewise, Natalie spoke calmly and quietly between songs, but again - nothing to detract from the music.

Not surprisingly, "Not Ready to Make Nice," was the highlight of the show, performed with as much personal passion as ever, earning the Chicks a standing ovation and a full minute of thunderous applause. While the audience was clearly not as familiar with the music from Home, and even less so with the music from Fly (the title track was the only selection from Wide Open Spaces performed). Clearly, the folks in the audience were the type who had maybe one or two Chicks albums in their collections previous to Taking the Long Way (if you'll recall, there was certainly a time when, even if you weren't a fan of mainstream country, even if you weren't a fan of anything remotely country, it was cool to own a Chicks CD), but had never really appreciated the genius of the band until "The Incident."

Ironically, when songs from Fly are played right next to songs from Taking the Long Way, one realizes exactly how much times have changed for the Chicks. Not sure what I mean? Listen to "Some Days You Gotta Dance" from Fly, and then "Easy Silence" from Taking the Long Way. These are clearly not the girls who once wore pink feather boas to awards shows.

On the other hand, some lyrics from their previous albums prove to be erie forecasts of what was to come. There's a bittersweetness to the line "Room to make her big mistakes" that didn't previously exist in "Wide Open Spaces." Likewise, a certain sadness in their remake of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide." At the same time, a triumph when Natalie pumps her first when she sings, "You don't like the sound of the truth comin' from my mouth" in Patty Griffin's song, "Truth No. 2" from Home.

Although the Chicks' set lasted almost two hours, it was barely enough time to scratch the surface of their material. The course of their set included a new song inspired after they saw a rough cut of the documentary Shut Up and Sing (co-written by opener Pete Yorn), and their rendition of "Mississippi" makes me want to like Bob Dylan. On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded the aforementioned "You Were Mine," or Maria McKee's "Am I the Only One" (also from Spaces), or Radney Foster's "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)," or "I'm Gonna Let Him Fly" or "Favorite Year" or "Voice Inside My Head" or...I could go on.

The Dixie Chicks may have traveled a hard road to get to this place, but it's been well worth the wait. In regards to "The Incident," Martie says, "It's the best thing to ever have happened to me."

It's the best thing to ever have happened to their fans, too.

Posted by darlin at November 25, 2006 3:49 PM