When Natalie Maines criticized then-President George W. Bush in 2003, it caused controversy not only because she was going after a sitting president, but also because it seemed out of character for the Dixie Chicks. Thirteen years later, the Chicks' politics are front and center, but because it's such a central part of who they are -- and has been for a long time -- it has ceased to be controversial.
In fact, you couldn't avoid the subtle and not-so-subtle political statements during the group's August 5 concert at Gexa Energy Pavilion, their first appearance in Dallas since a 2006 concert at American Airlines Center. Pre-show advertisements invited concertgoers to check out voter registration and Planned Parenthood booths on the concourse. At least two audience members, Megan Hughes and Jessica Hughes-Ford of Arkansas, decorated their bodies in a similar manner to the Chicks' iconic nude Entertainment Weekly cover in a show of solidarity for the trio.
However, when it came time for the music, the group mostly let their lyrics do the talking, spreading the love equally between their three most recent albums, Fly, Home, and Taking the Long Way. Songs off the latter album, especially encore song "Not Ready to Make Nice," can't help but be viewed through the prism of that long-ago controversy, because the album was a reaction to their critics. And songs off of Home like "Truth No. 2" and "Travelin' Soldier," the latter of which was No. 1 at the time of Maines' statement, also resonate more given the group's history.
Their choice of cover songs -- Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," Patty Griffin's "Don't Let Me Die in Florida," Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons," Bob Dylan's "Mississippi," and Ben Harper's "Better Way" -- each made statements just by their presence, to say nothing of the respectful and excellent way in which the Chicks covered them.
There were two notable exceptions to the music-only approach. During "Goodbye Earl," in which a beaten wife and her friend kill the abusive husband, images of famous alleged killers like O.J. Simpson and Robert Durst were flashed on the big screen behind the group, as well as a split-second image of Donald Trump made to look like the devil. Trump and the rest of the current and former 2016 presidential hopefuls made a reappearance during "Ready to Run," a light-hearted song given new meaning by pictures of candidates from both parties made up to look like clowns.
The two opening acts, Smooth Hound Smith and Vintage Trouble, proved themselves worthy of supporting the Chicks. Smooth Hound Smith, the duo of Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle, consisted of nothing more than an electric guitar, a kick drum, and a tambourine, but they delivered some of the best stomping tunes imaginable.
Vintage Trouble, a foursome decked out in suits and tuxedos, lived up to their name both in style and music. Lead singer Ty Taylor evoked the late James Brown, doing everything in his power, including trekking out to the lawn, to get the relatively sparse opening act crowd on their feet.
With no new music on the horizon for the Dixie Chicks, fans will have to make do with this tour to get their fix. Luckily, the trio were in as fine form as ever, showing that you can never keep a good group down.