The Dixie Chicks are ending what is basically a reunion tour in Canada with four shows, and Montreal was lucky enough to welcome the trio on Saturday at the Bell Centre. More than 10 years after their first visit to our city, the ladies gave a slick show to a crowd that made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in number.
Country’s never been a strong genre in Montreal, but recently promoter Evenko has made a concerted effort to bring more artists in town. I would have thought the the Chicks’ blend of traditional country and pop/rock sensibilities would have had a more crossover appeal, but it didn’t seem to be the case as most of the balconies had been tarped off.
The band came on stage singing “The Long Way Around”, followed by “Lubbock or Leave It”, both from their latest record, 2006’s “Taking the Long Way”. (Has it really been ten years already?) They followed with the more traditional “Truth No 2”, a track that highlighted the playing of sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, the heart and soul of the band. The ladies were backed by five musicians, which allowed them to faithfully reproduce the arrangements from the records, or put a new spin on them.
“Goodbye Earl” brought the crowd to its feet, singing and clapping, in what might very well have been the concert’s strongest moment. The musicians left the stage while a video played, showing the girls in a car race that was part “Mad Max”, part “Sin City”, to the strains of a country instrumental arrangement of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” (!) When the band came back, they all lined up by the front of the stage for a more intimate segment that while fantastic (their rendition of “Travellin’ Soldier” was a highlight) completely wasted the intensity they’d just built up.
And indeed if I had one criticism to offer, it’s that the setlist didn’t have much flow. There rarely was a feeling of building up to something, and epic moments were often followed by lesser known, quieter songs, that seemed to take the wind out of the crowd. It doesn’t help that singer Natalie Maines isn’t much of a frontwoman, and her in between song banter feels more like small talk. It came as no surprise that she would mention the current American President, considering she derailed the band’s career when she publicly criticized George W. Bush. “What do you think of Donald Trump?”, she asked, never doubting the fans’ negative reaction. She went on to say that she was lucky to have a stage in such troubled times, but strangely didn’t do much with it, considering how outspoken she is.
For the last stretch of the show, the Chicks offered us their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”, “Cowboy Take Me Away”, played a tiny bit too slow for my taste, but on the flip side it helped showcase the glorious vocal harmonies, “Wide Open Spaces” lacked conviction, as if they’re tired of playing it, but it worked nonetheless because it’s a fantastic song, and the crowd’s enthusiasm lifted it. A spirited “Sin Wagon” closed the show in style, with a touch of humour. And really, the Dixie Chicks are at their best when they’re slightly cheeky.
The defiant “Not Ready to Make Nice” launched the encore, and you can tell the subject still gets to Maines. They closed with a cover of Ben Harper’s “Better Way”, its topical lyrics distilling the Chicks’ message in a simple song. “What good is a man / Who won’t take a stand / What good is a cynic / With no better plan / I believe in a better way”.
As the three musicians came together to play on a single drum made out of a trash can, the answer was obvious. It’s by uniting and working together that we’ll get through these times. United we stand, divided we fall.
Smooth Hound Smith
The evening started with Smooth Hound Smith, a husband and wife duo from Nashville. Their material mixes americana and country, with a hint of pop; it was pleasant and well played, but ultimately failed to make much of an impression on me.