Texas trio Dixie Chicks, still ashamed George W. Bush is from their home state, largely spent the Obama administration on the sidelines. Their MMXVI tour — the group’s first cross-American jaunt in ten years — began in 2016, before the results of last November’s election. Saturday night’s return to the Bell Centre came near the end of the 82-show world tour, but had the added benefit of a new president worthy of lead singer Natalie Maines’ scorn.
Natalie Maines of the country band Dixie Chicks performs at the Bell Centre in Montreal, on Saturday, April 15, 2017. Photo by Peter McCabe /MONTREAL GAZETTE And hold back they did not, although Maines’ bold statements came in the form of readily available tweets, which were shown on the side screen during the changeover. Peruse her timeline at your leisure — they make “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas” from 2003 sound complimentary.
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“What do you think of Donald Trump?” Maines asked the spirited crowd of 6,656, knowing full well a chorus of boos was coming. “Your prime minister is so hot,” she continued. “We used to have a hot president.”
For brief moments during the group’s two-hour long set, it was reassuring to see them defiant as ever despite the sojourn. For the most part, though, it was a long overdue reunion with one of country’s rightful crossover successes. Saturday night’s set was a reminder that beyond having the courage to speak openly, the Dixie Chicks possess the heart-stopping harmonies, bluegrass stompers, superstar presence and enviable pop instincts to back up any words.
Emily Robison of the country band Dixie Chicks performs at the Bell Centre in Montreal, on Saturday, April 15, 2017. Photo by Peter McCabe /MONTREAL GAZETTE Frontwoman Maines played centre, with the Erwin sisters Martie and Emily (known by their respective married names, Maguire and Robison) on her wings. All three were at the front edge of stage, Maines on guitar, Maguire on fiddle and Robison on banjo, with a five-piece backing band behind them.
With no recent output to present — besides a cover of Beyoncé’s Daddy Lessons that featured Queen Bee herself on the recorded version — they instead went for a party atmosphere featuring their liveliest hits. Radio-friendly, harmony-heavy Long Way Around opened the night, followed by the rough, quick-paced Lubbock or Leave It and a joyous cover of Patty Griffin’s Truth #2. Right away the group rallied around what they do best: immaculate pop country, more traditional roots with an edge and a cover they’ve made their own.
Martie Maguire of the country band Dixie Chicks performs at the Bell Centre in Montreal, on Saturday, April 15, 2017. Photo by Peter McCabe /MONTREAL GAZETTE The pattern continued with a number of cover versions the Dixie Chicks have put their stamp on, from Bob Dylan’s Mississippi, Daddy Lessons, Thunderclap Newman’s still relevant 1969 song Something in the Air and Griffin’s Don’t Let Me Die in Florida. And of course, there was their hit cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide — which Maines pointed out was first recorded when they were “one baby in” (the three members now have nine and the song is feeling a little less relatable). On the oddly upbeat Goodbye Earl, the group reinforced the song’s domestic violence subject matter by mixing old mugshots with those of Chris Brown and O.J. Simpson — and Trump with devil horns drawn in for good measure.
For a final message, the group closed the encore with another cover — Ben Harper’s laid-back call for peace anthem Better Way. Like every other song on the night, the Dixie Chicks found their own way to perform it, only this time, it showed how calling for love and acceptance in a simple way can feel as powerful and rebellious as any statement the band could’ve made.