Review: Dixie Chicks dynamic, unapologetic as ever at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
This just in: Natalie Maines wants to say she’s sorry.
“I’m just going to make some apologies,” the Dixie Chicks singer told the crowd of 16,000 Friday at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, just before playing Don’t Let Me Die in Florida, a rollicking Patty Griffin cover that’s not so kind to the Sunshine State.
“I just wanted to say we all love Florida – the beaches, the sunshine,” she continued. “I have no explanation for Patty and her reasons for the song, but me, for this song, I’m drawn to the melody and the groove.”
You were expecting something else? An apology for We’re-Ashamed-The-President-Is-From-Texas-Gate, maybe? Yeah, no chance.
Thirteen years after Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire became Nashville pariahs, the Dixie Chicks still aren’t ready to make nice with their haters – and judging from their dynamic performance Friday night, they don’t need to.
This is their first U.S. headlining tour in a decade, their first Tampa Bay gig since 2004, and if there was any rust, it never showed. All in their 40s, with nine kids between them, the Chicks buzzed through a two-hour set like a band half their age, careening through a range of Americana styles – country-pop, bluegrass, cowpunk, even a little loosey-goosey funk on Long Time Gone – that few bands can match.
It was a reminder of just how much the music world lost a decade ago, when the Dixie Chicks began scaling back their music careers. Today, festival headliners like the Zac Brown Band, the Avett Brothers and Dierks Bentley dominate a lane the Dixie Chicks helped pave. The Chicks are playing like they want to reclaim their rightful place among them.
After striding out with the purposeful Taking the Long Way, they blew the doors off with the raging Lubbock or Leave It, with Maines’ barbed yips and yowls fanning the fire.
Maines remains the group’s true rock star, whether rocking out on guitar, walloping a trash can or whipping her side-swept platinum ‘do on a towering cover of Bob Dylan’s Mississippi. It was her vivacious verve that fueled hellraising hayrides like Sin Wagon and the domestic violence revenge fantasy Goodbye Earl (which was accompanied by a video featuring notoriously not-so-chivalrous dudes like O.J. Simpson, Chris Brown and Robert Durst).
But it’s Maines’ two founding Chicks, do-it-all banjoist Strayer and fiddler Maguire, who still give the group its distinct sound. They were the ones smiling and spinning gossamer harmonies around Maines’ spiky lead vocals, lending infinite depth to ballads like Landslide and emotional heft to the defiant Not Ready To Make Nice. Another Griffin cover, the sweeping and majestic Top of the World, let Maguire lean into her violin chops, adding a classical element to a song that cried out for an orchestra.
Some songs delivered the country-pop sugar rush early fans remembered – Cowboy Take Me Away and Wide Open Spaces were huge, holistic sing-alongs – but the group’s diverse tastes and influences sprawled way out from there.
They covered Beyonce’s Daddy Lessons (a song directly influenced, no doubt, by the Dixie Chicks themselves), and Strayer and Maguire dropped a fierce bluegrass mash-up of Bey’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) and the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. An interstitial video featured a bluegrass cover of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. And they twice paid tribute to Prince, entering the stage to Let’s Go Crazy and dropping jaws with a full-throated, awe-inspiring cover of Nothing Compares 2 U.
One thing the Chicks didn’t do was get too specific on politics – though there were hints of activism all around, from the $40 “Dixie Chicks for President 2016” T-shirts to a pre-show scroll of some of Maines’ political tweets alongside ads for Planned Parenthood and Proclaim Justice. Ready to Run came with a JibJab-style animation of all of this year’s presidential candidates – Republican and Democrat – flapping their jaws and duking it out in clown costumes. And they closed by covering Ben Harper’s Eastern-tinged call to arms Better Way, backdropped by a giant rainbow heart.
“We do this song to try to put positivity out into the universe,” Maines said. “We can actually change the energy of the universe.”
You know what? They kind of already have. No apology needed.
-- Jay Cridlin