Concert Reviews

The Chicks Made Texas Darn Proud With Their Monday Night Show in Irving

The Chicks got political and didn't give a damn who didn't like it.
The Chicks got political and didn't give a damn who didn't like it. Carly May Gravley
The legendary Dallas country trio The Chicks opened their first of two shows at the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory in Irving on Monday with a snippet of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” It’s a bit of cliched needle drop at this point, but nobody can say they haven’t earned it.

In the aftermath of lead singer Natalie Maines’ comments about the invasion of Iraq and her resentment that then-President George W. Bush was from her home state of Texas, The Chicks (then known as The Dixie Chicks) received an anonymous letter outlining a detailed plan to kill Maines at an upcoming show in Dallas. Though the full contents of the letter have never been made public, it is known to have said, “Shut up and sing or your life is over.”

The show in question went on without incident, but the threat marked a turning point for the band. They’ve recorded and toured sparingly in the 20 years since, and their concerts have a heightened security presence to this day.

Also notable is Maines’ presence on stage. At Monday night’s show, she did not explicitly speak on her past controversies or any of her political stances. Her stage banter was limited to talking about her father and son, who are both part of The Chicks' touring band. In some sense, they did shut up and sing.

Make no mistake, though. The Chicks have not backed down. They just let their art speak for them now.

This current tour is in support of their 2020 comeback album Gaslighter, a criminally underrated record that got lost in the chaos of the pandemic and, possibly more damningly, the band's name change mid-promotion cycle to distance themselves from the Confederate origins of the word “Dixie.” They are nothing if not principled.

Gaslighter and its belated tour explore feelings of betrayal, both personal and political. New songs like the title track and “Julianna Calm Down” artfully blur these lines, exploring how feelings of rage and heartbreak in a crumbling marriage can be exacerbated by an apocalyptic news cycle. Pain doesn’t differentiate between the narrow and broad scopes.

That’s not to say there wasn’t joy to be found in this show. Classic hits such as ‘Wide Open Spaces” and “Cowboy Take Me Away” felt like a warm hug to attendees, many of whom were younger fans who grew up on The Chicks.

During “March March” and their cover of Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons,” one person could be heard saying, “Oh my god. Shut the fuck up.”

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The show emphasized the importance of community and family, concepts that are supposedly the core of country music. At one point, The Chicks brought out their opener and longtime collaborator Patty Griffin for a duet. Their iconic rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide," which was first recorded when Maines was pregnant, featured her now-grown son on guitar in an emotional full-circle moment.

Poignantly enough, “Landslide” was the single they were promoting when their career was, for lack of a better word, canceled by conservative country listeners. But as the song alludes, time did make them bolder and they are less afraid than ever to challenge such groups.

“March March” is a Gaslighter single and protest anthem that was warmly received but didn’t make much of a commercial impact. The reason? It begs to be witnessed live. The understated outlaw country production (an unsung career high for producer Jack Antonoff) propped up the protest footage, depicting signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “End White Silence” overlaid with a constant stream of the names of victims of police brutality and hate crimes, beginning with George Floyd and ending with Emmett Till.

Country music has come a long way since 2003, but there is still an undeniably reactionary, conservative part of its base. During “March March” and their cover of Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons,” one person could be heard saying, “Oh my god. Shut the fuck up.” Others walked out. (We can’t help but wonder why those people came at all. Did they somehow not know?)

As stated earlier, The Chicks did not rehash the controversy that started all of this. There’s really no need to address it ever again as the penultimate song in their set, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” says everything there is to say. The 2006 hit boldly doubles down on the infamous statement and stands firm in not “[doing] what it is you think I should.” In other words, they don’t give a damn about their bad reputation.
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