GREENVILLE, S.C. — It appears that we can all go back to liking the Dixie Chicks again.
At the first stop of their Top of the World tour, there were precisely seven protesters in the assigned grassy knoll in front of the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday (May 1). Further down the sidewalk, dozens other people displayed their posters in support of Natalie Maines, President Bush and the United States — sometimes, all on the same sign.
Certainly, the controversy of Maines’ infamous remarks before a London audience almost two months ago threatened to overshadow the Texas trio’s return to their homeland. However, the Chicks have apparently maintained their sense of humor despite the adversity, even daring to play the Tammy Wynette classic “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” on the arena’s sound system just before they took the stage.
The eager arena — officially sold out and with only a handful of vacant seats — erupted in screams at the first strains of the opening song, “Goodbye Earl.” As animated frying pans frolicked across the giant screens, everybody leapt to their feet.
“They said you might not come, but we knew you would!” Maines shouted after the third song.
“If you want to boo us, we welcome that, because we love freedom of speech,” she said. Then the Chicks counted down to three, just to give the naysayers in the audience a 15-second window of opportunity. If there were any boos, they could not be heard over the huge applause.
Throughout the rest of the 20-song set, the Chicks scarcely chatted at all. Martie Maguire spoke only once, to introduce a film spoof about the back-up band. During a long stretch of songs, Maines took off her Michael Jackson-esque white jacket to reveal a black shirt that said “Dare to Be Free.” She also wore her hair in that weird, Max Headroom helmet-head style, along with a short black skirt with chains.
Finally, an hour into the set, Maines said, “I thought about not wearing this skirt, because I knew I had to sit down. But then I thought, half of you have seen me naked anyway” — presumably referring to the recent Entertainment Weekly cover featuring all three Chicks in the nude with epithets scrawled across their bodies.
In the night’s most provocative move, Maines introduced “Truth No. 2,” admitting that she didn’t get the lyrics of the Patty Griffin song at first. But over the course of the past few months, Maines said she now understands it perfectly.
The song’s lyrics include this line: “You don’t like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth.” Above the stage, footage of the civil rights movement, suffrage, bra burning, pro-choice rallies and gay-rights marches flickered slowly. And for those who missed the point, the Chicks also included reels of people stomping on records from the Beatles, Sinead O’Connor — and yes, even their own albums. The live performance was remarkable, but the audience was perhaps too stunned to react with the typically boisterous cheering.
In fact, a few people got up shortly thereafter, but for a whole different reason. They wanted to dance to the hit “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me,” which showcases what a terrific and talented vocalist Maines can be. It doesn’t hurt to have Maguire on fiddle or Emily Robison on Dobro either — and their road band was darn near perfect.
Following a Bob Dylan cover (“Mississippi”) and “Cowboy Take Me Away,” Robison saluted the mothers in the audience with “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams).” A few cute stage tricks came and went, but none of it overshadowed their musicianship or their natural comfort on stage.
After completing their first 20 songs, the Chicks returned after a breather to announce that the president had declared an end to the war in Iraq. The place went crazy, and then Maines opened her mouth and took a breath. More than a few hearts stopped. But rather than any disparaging remarks, she merely suggested that she felt like celebrating with a few more songs. (Whew.)
With beaming grins after the romp of “Sin Wagon,” all three Chicks circled the stage, happily waving and looking extremely relieved. Judging by the wild applause, country fans were glad to have them back home.
Joan Osborne opened the show, mixing up-tempo songs from her 1995 album Relish (with the hit “One of Us”), as well as soulful tunes to her 2002 project How Sweet It Is. She also tossed in a Bob Dylan song, “To Make You Feel My Love.” Though she turned in a fine performance, she must have temporarily forgotten it was a country show, because she didn’t say “How y’all doin’ Greenville!” until after the second song!
The Chicks’ Top of the World tour concludes Aug. 4 in Nashville.
“Some Days You Gotta Dance”
“There’s Your Trouble”
“Long Time Gone”
“Tortured, Tangled Hearts”
“Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)”
“Hello Mr. Heartache”
“Cold Day in July”
“White Trash Wedding”
“Lil Jack Slade”
“Truth No. 2”
“If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me”
“Cowboy Take Me Away”
“Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)”
“Ready to Run”
“Wide Open Spaces”
“Top of the World”
“One of Us”
Only You Know and I Know”
“To Make You Feel My Love”