For last show on tour, Dixie Chicks’ give a ladylike performance in Big D; Next time around expect Natalie Maines to emerge as a solo artist
There was something in the air: tension.
You could feel it wafting from the stage as the Dixie Chicks returned to Dallas on Tuesday, the last stop on their “Taking the Long Way” tour.
Maybe the tension was lingering from three years ago, the last time the Chicks played Big D. That’s’ when Natalie Maines received a chilling assassination threat.
But nope that wasn’t it.
The anxiety pointed to a career impasse for the Dixie Chicks. They’re suffering from an identity crisis.
Are they country artists, like a new superstar version of the Mandrell Sisters? Not any more.
Are they political rockers with a feminist rebel streak? Well, Maines is sometimes.
Have they been able to strike the perfect balance between the two? Hell no.
The fans attending the gig at the American Airlines Center were one thing loyal: Bona fide Texans who embody the Lone Star ethos that our state is big enough to encourage freedoms for all.
Amid the cowboy hats and rodeo buckles were tiaras, a few feather boas and T-shirts emblazoned with “The L Word” logo. Even erotic superstar Mark Dalton was in the crowd with a female date.
So why did Maines feel the need to perform with a muzzle? Why did she refrain from talking about President Bush? Because the Dixie Chicks are caught in their own tug of war: traditional family-friendly entertainers vs. sing-from-your-gut lionesses. Make that lioness.
A butt-numbing 40 minutes after Pete Yorn finished his opening act, the Chicks finally took the stage with “Hail to the Chief” pumping over the sound system. Maines, Martie Maguire, Emily Robison and a nine-piece band blew through three songs before they even said howdy.
Maguire and Robison both look stunning as they kick out banjo licks and fiddle flourishes. But their musicianship is hardly athletic or artistically inspiring enough to merit more than one spotlighted solo. They don’t hold a candle to Dolly Parton or Charlie Daniels’ hoedown magic.
And then there’s Maines the star. Since it was their last gig, it was as if she was putting on her waitress uniform for the last time. Like she couldn’t wait to burn it.
Actually, her fashion choice was odd: a flowing white jacket that looked like “Thriller”-meets-Holly Hobbie. The jacket was complimented with an ill-advised pair of pleated gabardine shorts. The shorts did show off Maines’ creamy gams. And her footwear was killer: a blinding pair of patent-leather fuck-me pumps. But in Maines’ case, they might be fuck-you pumps.
Maines made a few jokes between songs. She gave PinkIsTheNewBlog two great plugs and encouraged everyone to check out Britney Spears’ latest crotch-flashing paparazzi shots. After some digs at K-Fed, the Chicks busted out “White Trash Wedding.”
After 11 songs that vacillated between corny clap-along fun and newer, soulful material, the night came to wonderfully dramatic halt as they belted out “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Audience members unfurled banners that read “F.U.W.” and “We’re ashamed, too!”
When the song ended, there was a standing ovation. And for the first time that night, Maines genuinely smiled.
The Chicks’ musical arrangements were as straightforward as you can get. No daring musical interpretations. The concert was like listening to a mix of their albums. Except for the noticeable tension, the Dallas gig was “nice” and about as phoned in as it gets.
Maines seems ready to chase the tails of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. While they seem like sweet bandmates, Robison and Maguire might not fit into that mold. And except for their backup vocals, Robison and Maguire didn’t utter a single word the entire night.
How would they take their final stage bow? It was like watching a leaf break away from a tree. For the last gig on the tour, you’d expect a victory lap with the three Chicks holding hands.
After performing a few silly-looking curtsies, Maines left the stage and walked off by herself. Robison and Maguire followed behind Maines with their arms around each other.
And just like the “Hail to the Chief” opener, there seemed to be a message when the lights came up and Elton Johns’ “The Bitch is Back” was cranked up.
It’s a bet and probably a safe one. But I’m predicting that Natalie Maines’ Dixie Chick days are over.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 20, 2006.