There's nothing more ideal than being in Air Canada Centre on a Saturday night with $100 tickets for the 300 section at centre ice - except there was no hockey game. The crowd was filled with mothers and daughters, families with babies, and lots of ladies on the town bedecked with cowboy hats. Welcome to the New Country, heralding the Dixie Chicks to a packed ACC on the first of two nights, just off the start of the current swing of the Accidents and Accusations tour the night before in Ottawa.
The crowd was already on the Dixie Chick's side - shown during the stage change when the promotional trailer for the movie Shut Up and Sing! played on the centre ice scoreboard brought a loud long cheer afterwards. The stage change music was classic rock and roll : the Rolling Stones, the Pretenders. Finally by 9:15 p.m. the lights went out.
After a cheeky entrance of Hail to the Chief, a reminder of what all the fuss is about, the band entered launching into the new album with Lubbock or Leave It, a song which has been received critically by those of the Lone Star bible state. The statement song Truth No. 2 from the album Home followed:
You don't like the sound of the truth
Coming from my mouth
You say that I lack the proof
Well baby that might be so
I might get to the end of my life
Find out everyone was lying
I don't think that I’m afraid anymore
Say that I would rather die trying
The very stirring and rebel rousing night was not just a straight showcase of their current Taking the Long Way album - it was a set aimed square at cementing current Dixie Chicks fans and bringing in the new fans. The night on a stripped down stage without all the fancy lighting and effects was a blend of their bluegrass and twang, along with their multi-instrumental ability to rock out. Plus they had their best touring band to date. The ardent followers of the trio: vocalist /guitarist Natalie Maines and the two sisters of the band Emily Robinson [vocals, guitars, banjos] and Martie Maguire [vocals, various strings, violins] clearly knew the lyrics of the early 1998 Fly album favourite - the fun Goodbye Earl which was launched early as the third number of the set. The crowd was eagerly waiting for some word from singer Natalie Maines. She finally got around to quietly saying "Bonjour there" and making polite conversation with the crowd before reminding the world how the Dixie Chicks made their start by taking The Long Way Around. Then it was back to one of their best covers from their best selling 2003's Home of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide. For the longest while, Natalie kept the politics on the backburner as they dipped into their past four albums [ starting with their major record company 1998 debut Wide Open Spaces, the 1999 Fly, then Home in 2002, and Taking The Long Way in 2006] until she introduced a new song written because of the movie, The Neighbor.
"I am normally a people pleaser, but I don't know how to shut up AND sing, so I'm not going to shut up and sing."
After a quiet moment devoted to Lullaby written because they wanted a song for their seven children in the band, their country roots were rousted by the likes of Cowboy Take Me Away, White Trash Wedding and the furiously fast instrumental Lil Jack Slade which had the crowd alive again and Natalie really beginning to loosen up and stomping on stage. The crowd's clearest support of the Dixie Chicks' stance came after their current hit Not Ready To Make Nice with its verse of
there's nothing left for me to figure out
I've paid a price
and I'll keep paying
I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell
and I don't have time to go round and round and round
It's too late to make it right
followed by a standing ovation from the floor and the seated crowd.
The rest of the evening sailed through some more Natalie joking: "You may be wondering why Emily and Martie don't say anything. They said something bad once and I had to put a stop to it." The evening soared to the painful hurting of Top of the World and So Hard. Then the set came through to the conclusion with their favourite song from the movie - their anthemic: Wide Open Spaces which is the best descriptive of the Dixie Chicks countryside, then dashing through the fast and furious downhome Sin Wagon and Ready to Run.
The encore was the touching Travelin' Soldier which really does hit home these days, followed by the Bob Dylan cover of Mississippi and the crowd chanting during the rousing Ready to Run.
"It's time!" shouted Natalie at the end, and everybody took their stage bow then she curtsied her way off stage.