The big question Sunday night at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale was just how political the Dixie Chicks would be once they hit the stage.
It turned out the band made their first political statement before they even got up there.
As the lights went out and the crowd, estimated at about 10,000 in the 17,000-capacity arena, began cheering, “Hail to the Chief” began playing over the public address system, the irony not lost on anybody who came to see the Dixie Chicks, one of country music’s biggestselling acts until three years ago, when lead singer Natalie Maines told a crowd in London that the band was “ashamed” that President Bush was from their home state of Texas.
The comment proved disastrous for the band, as plenty of country music’s patriotic fan base comes from “red states.” Country radio dropped them from playlists, and former fans smashed their Dixie Chicks CDs.
As was evidenced Sunday night, plenty of country fans stayed home, but those who came to the show were staunchly behind the band.
“It’s crazy that country radio won’t play their music,” said Dave Henson, a Dixie Chicks fan from Gilbert. “I think they’re gone for good on radio — the conservative country fan base has let them go.”
The Dixie Chicks opened with the rocker “Lubbock or Leave It,” with Maines playing guitar while the other multi-instrumentalist Chicks — sisters Martie McGuire and Emily Robison — pitched in with their trademark vocal harmonies.
After “Truth,” the band revved things up with the darkly humorous hit “Goodbye Earl,” the crowd singing the infectious “na-na-nas” with the band, and, after the tune, Maines approached the mike.
“Well, hello there,” said the blond, diminutive singer, decked out in black from head to toe. “I got a Google alert two days ago that said this place would be half empty. It doesn’t look half empty to me — you showed up!”
The band then kicked into the upbeat “Takin’ the Long Way,” before showcasing their harmonies on the Fleetwood Mac cover “Landslide” and “Everybody Knows,” before playing “The Neighbor,” a new song that Maines said the band wrote after seeing a rough cut of the new documentary film about the group called “Shut Up & Sing.” Maines chuckled, “So I wonder what it’s about?”
Other highlights during the two-hour set included the ripping bluegrass tune “White Trash Wedding,” (which Maines dedicated to Britney Spears’ soon-to-be ex, Kevin Federline, saying “He’s available, ladies,” which elicited the only boos of the evening), the band’s new mantra/anthem “Not Ready to Make Nice” from the Chicks’ 2006 disc, “Taking the Long Way,” which received some of the biggest applause of the show, and a blistering version of the bluegrass rocker “Sin Wagon.”
It was clear, after the band ended the evening with the hit “Ready to Run,” that the Dixie Chicks still have a rabid fan base, although not nearly as big as it once was, and judging by the band’s energetic, loose set and fun interaction with the crowd that did show up, that’s just fine with them.
“It really surprised me how good they were live,” said Dixie Chicks fan and registered Republican Kevin Denick, 47, of Scottsdale. “I don’t place great weight in the political opinions of entertainers, and I am really surprised by the backlash. They’re great entertainers and they make great music — who cares what they say?”
Texas singer/songwriter Bob Schneider got a surprisingly warm response from the country crowd during a brisk 30-minute opening set.
Schneider’s tunes are suffused with a mix of influences, from jazz to folk and from reggae to rock, but he got the crowd involved in a singalong during the Latin-flavored “Tarantula,” and received a nice ovation from the won-over Dixie Chicks fans.
“I’ve seen (Schneider) 35 times,” said Kelly Mecker, 23, of Scottsdale, who attended the show specifically to see the talented Texan. “He has so much material — each show has been different.”