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There's no place like 'Home.'

Dixie Moxie

The Dixie Chicks didn't let threat and controversy stop their Top of the World tour

By Sarah Quelland

SECURITY WAS HIGH at the HP Pavilion last Wednesday (July 16) as the Dixie Chicks are taking added precautions to ensure their safety in the violent wake of lead vocalist Natalie Maines' controversial comment at a concert in London, where she told the crowd, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." The families, couples and groups of young women who made up the bulk of the concertgoers at the sold-out show were greeted by banks of metal detectors at the entrances of the arena, and blue-shirted and blue-jacketed event staff--along with other more discreet security personnel--blanketed the interior of the venue.

The increased security presence may have been an effective deterrent, but it didn't detract from the sheer enjoyability of what turned out to be an impeccable show. The Chicks kept their stage patter to a minimum, taking turns throughout the night to speak to the audience. It wasn't until about 12 songs in, when introducing the Patty Griffin-penned "Truth No. 2" (off latest album Home), that Maines mentioned what she referred to as "the incident." The audience voiced its support loudly enough to drown out any dissent, but Maines must have heard some. She cheerfully responded, "We'd like to assume the cheers are because you love us and the boos are because you are so mad about what happened to us."

If the Chicks had something more to say, they sent their message through the songs they chose to have played through the house sound system before they took the stage, including the Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed," Tammy Wynette's "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," the Rolling Stones' "I'm Free" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."

Their own performance--backed by a 12-piece band complete with string section--stayed tightly focused on their music and their fans. A lot of thought went into the fan-friendly design of the elaborate stage. Since it was set up right smack dab in the center of the arena, there could hardly have been a bad seat in the house. Hundreds of fans were pooled into reservoirs inside the stage to watch the show up-close in an area the Chicks call the "chicken coop." At any given time, members of the audience had a good view of Maines, fiddle player Martie Maguire and dobro/banjo/guitar player Emily Robison--and their interesting wardrobe choices. Maguire wore a punk-rock getup; Robison looked vampish in black; and Maines seemed to be angling for Mr. Blackwell's worst-dressed list in a black splatter-paint top, short black skirt, hot-pink fishnet stockings, thigh-high boots and a hairdo that made her resemble a cross bird. Maguire commented on their clothes saying one reviewer wrote, "We were just like extras in a bad '80s video." But she said without apology, "I'm gonna dress up just as long as I can."

Maybe they didn't look country, but they sounded plenty country. In addition to choice tunes off Wide Open Spaces and Fly, the girls played nearly every song from their pop-tinged bluegrass album, Home. The songs themselves hardly deviated from the recordings, but the levels of wistfulness, sadness and tenderness on songs like the Chicks' cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," "Travelin' Soldier" and "Godspeed (Sweet Deams)" became heightened in the live setting.

Their stage bloomed with scenery that added to the mood of the songs, including a tall billowy tree during "A Home," cattails during "Mississippi" (a Sheryl Crow song penned by Bob Dylan) and a rusty old windmill during "Wide Open Spaces." Through it all, the Chicks shared songs full of sass and sorrow, smiling and waving at fans in the crowd.

After 20 songs, the Chicks disappeared from the stage but returned quickly. Maines introduced the first song of the encore, "Top of the World," calling it her favorite song on the album. She joked about their situation again, saying, "We made a video for this. We have not been banned from television yet." While this orchestral epic drama about a man who died and wished he'd done things differently unfolded, the creepy video, which shows Maines morphing into the old man and back again, screened overhead. It was disturbing and powerful, and the Chicks knew better than to end the night on that note. They closed with the fireball "Sin Wagon."

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From the July 24-30, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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