NEW YORK — There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since the Dixie Chicks last headlined Madison Square Garden on their 2006 Accidents & Accusations tour.
But despite the controversies, solo albums and side projects, the trio never called it quits. They just took a bit of a break. And DCX MMXVI, their first U.S. tour as headliners in 10 years, couldn’t have been complete without a triumphant return to MSG.
New York City doesn’t let go of its loved ones so easily, and the Dixie Chicks lovers who packed the Garden on Monday (June 13) seemed eager to embrace Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison again.
Even before the Chicks took the stage, it was obvious they hadn’t changed a bit. Their choice of two decidedly non-country opening acts — young indie-popper Josh Herbert and British soul-rock band the Heavy — indicated they remain as unpredictable as ever. And the pre-show video announcements supporting Planned Parenthood, LGBT causes and prison reform let everyone in the arena know that the group hasn’t backed off a bit from its sociopolitical progressivism.
They’re also probably the only band likely to play Lubbock, Texas, outlaw country legend Terry Allen (Maines’ hometown hero) over the MSG P.A. in a pre-show mix, though Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” was turned up full blast as the venue darkened to announce the Chicks’ impending arrival. The lights came back up to reveal a stark black-and-white stage set, echoed in the attire of the trio and their backup band as well as the computer animation displayed behind them.
There was nothing monochromatic about the concert’s kickoff, though. The expansive, open-road feel of “The Long Way Around” led into rough-edged rocker “Lubbock or Leave It” with Robison’s hard-as-nails banjo licks giving the grinding guitar riffs a run for their money. Both Robison’s banjo and Maguire’s fiddle had their say on the Chicks’ cover of singer-songwriter Patty Griffin’s “Truth No. 2.”
After easing up a bit for a couple of the slower tunes from their last album, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, “Easy Silence” and “Favorite Year,” the group revved things up for the country rocker “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” a Top 10 single from 1999’s Fly. They kept the good-time vibe going on their No. Two hit from 2002’s Home, “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” as the song’s zydeco-splashed country stomp sneakily gave way to an instrumental snatch of Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” making a musical wink to the trio’s namesake.
The mood turned somber as Maines talked about losing “a huge musical influence” this year before dedicating “Nothing Compares 2 U” to its late composer, Prince. As Prince’s famous hieroglyphic-style symbol appeared on the stage screen, Maines belted out a mournful, elegiac version of the tune.
After the quiet, acoustic ballad “Top of the World” from the sextuple-platinum Home, The Dixie Chicks got the crowd on its feet and roaring to their Dennis Linde-penned 2000 gold single “Goodbye Earl.” While everything from old gangster movie snippets to O.J. Simpson trial press clippings appeared on the screen behind them, the trio sang gleefully of snuffing out a domestic abuser.
After a set change, Maines, Robison and Maguire appeared sans band, seated on wooden boxes for an acoustic mini-set.
“This is our first tour to do a costume change,” quipped Maines. “We were wearing black and white, now we’re wearing white and black.” Armed with only Dobro, fiddle and acoustic guitar, they delivered their delicate, folkish 2002 No. 1 hit “Travelin’ Soldier.”
The rest of the band then popped up toting acoustic axes of their own for a bluegrass-flavored take on “Daddy Lessons” from Beyonce’s Lemonade before launching into the full-on flying-finger bluegrass of “White Trash Wedding” followed by a new bluegrass instrumental the trio worked up for the tour, with Maines pounding a tom-tom while Maguire’s fiddle and Robison’s banjo flew.
Easing back into an electric feel, the Chicks leaped into “Ready to Run” from Fly. With the screen depicting all the 2016 presidential candidates in clown wigs and red noses, the entire arena was suddenly filled with red, white and blue confetti, giving the feeling of a joyful anti-political convention.
After an exultant, rocking take on Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi,” the group settled into one of their most beloved tunes, their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s folk-rock ballad “Landslide.” Introducing the song, Maines identified “I’m getting older too” as a line they always keyed in on, adding, “I just cannot tell you how much truer that line has become with every single month and year.”
The mood turned dark for a moment with the deep cut “Silent House” from Taking the Long Way, featuring some fiery fiddle from Maguire, before the doors and windows were flung wide for the cinematic, great-plains vibe of twin No. 1 hits “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces.” But the set closed on a bad-ass note with the blazing cowpunk of “Sin Wagon,” with searing fiddle and banjo licks to match.
At encore time, the Chicks trotted out “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the 2006 single that became their last Top 40 hit and evoked their embattled mid-2000s period. But Maines announced they needed to end the evening with something much more positive, referencing the Sunday’s shooting in Orlando, Florida.
“We cannot let the hatred and anger win out. …We’ve gotta put positivity out there in the universe,” she said.
With that, the band jumped into the churning, almost psychedelic-sounding rock of Ben Harper’s optimistic, Eastern-tinged “Better Way,” slowly building to a cathartic climax that involved an audience sing-along, a group of children coming onstage to play percussion and Maines whacking the hell out of an upturned trash can with a pair of mallets, eventually joined on the junk pile by Robison and Maguire.
At that moment, it seemed unlikely that either the Dixie Chicks or their audience could countenance another extended absence from each other.