They started off with murder and cheating and finished with a sinful climax after a hefty dose of peace, love, melancholia and mayhem.

The Dixie Chicks may have had the blowtorch of hypocrisy applied to their tiny feet but they kicked back with the best weapon - music.

And, for those who hadn't heard all six albums, huge video screens illustrated their sonic sagas from the mean streets of Dallas, Austin and beyond.

First there was a skull and cross bones to adorn Dennis Linde's historic hit Goodbye Earl and a kaleidoscopic collage of freedom fighters dating back way before the civil rights movement birth for Patty Griffin's Truth No 2.

Racism in Mississippi, assassination of Martin Luther King and a couple of Presidents, international suffrage, attempts to ban the Beatles and abortion and freedom of speech all won cameos on the towering twin tableaux.

The trio, with superb harmonies and an eight-piece band augmented by a string quartet in a later cameo, did not need visual ramping.

But, like the poison in Earl's black-eyed peas, it ensured the messages were laced with a clout denied to lesser mortals.

Earl may have been long ago resurrected to haunt Wanda and the Chicks in Paul Craft's novelty sequel to the Lined tune, first cut by Sons Of The Desert but never released, but not tonight on this highly-strung tennis court.

Pacing and sequencing, as always, was important.

A rollicking Some Days You Gotta Dance, cut first by Keith Urban & The Ranch, segued into There's Your Trouble and Darrell Scott penned radio parody and chart topper Long Time Gone.

"We listen to the radio to hear what's cooking'/ but the music ain't got no soul/ now they sound tired but they don't sound Haggard/ they got money but they don't have Cash/ they got Junior but they don't have Hank."

Sisters Emily Robison (banjo and dobro) and Martie Maguire (fiddle and mandolin) perched on pedestals at stage left and right as singer Natalie Maines strutted her stuff in energetic forays from the eye of the storm.

After six long months on the road, patter becomes standard so Robison broke the mould by urging bouncers to allow a flower delivery to the "brunette in the band" to ease their Tortured Tangled Heart.

The bouncers parted, like that other sea of salt, and the flowers bloomed from the fertile court bed.

There may have been other brunettes in the big band - guitarist David Grissom of Joe Ely fame and much of the rhythm section but not a greying Robbie Turner - pedal steel player for the late Waylon Jennings and The Highwaymen.

The wall of sound, layered with organ, keyboard, bass and diverse guitars, threatened to shade the vocals but not quite.

Visuals accentuated their evocative treatment of Bruce Robison's oft recorded powerful anti-war tune Travellin' Soldier, featuring double bass, piano accordion, squeeze box and fiddles, and small town dreams of Susan Gibson's career song Wide Open Spaces.

And, of course, there was plenty of love - especially in their raft of original tunes.
It ranged from pathos in Am I The Only One and two stepping cover Hello Mr Heartache to nuptial nirvana of Cowboy Take Me Away, Ready To Run and White Trash Wedding.

The latter was the first in a show stopping bluegrass oasis that enabled staccato picking on instrumental Lil' Jack Slade before a tempo change in passion primed More Love.
But love's after glow is painful.

Especially in Godspeed - inspired by Texan troubadour Radney Foster's eldest son Julian, now 12, being taken to Paris as an infant by his former wife and the painful, protracted custody battle.

Patty Griffin's melancholic meander through a character's wasted years in Top Of The World was a pathos primed parable, catalysed by the chronological video.

But the challenge of preventing or repairing ruptured romance can be joyous - as proven in If I Fall and Stevie Nicks smash Landslide.

Sequencing Top Of The World as first encore song seemed strange (it was the tour theme) but that evaporated when Bonnie Raitt's Give It Up Or Let Me Go and the fiery finale Sin Wagon were the beefy bookends.

And to ensure viewers recalled the Dixie Chicks won their legal battle with their record company the video screens echoed the message from the inner sleeve of Home.
"WE ARE CHANGING THE WAY WE DO BUSINESS" was the frequent and not so subliminal smoking gun firing with both barrels from above stage - left and right.

The Dixie Chicks proved they deserve their long reign in their homeland but belated local airplay was not enough to fill this huge arena on two nights.

That's a comment on remedial radio - not the dexterity of a trio whose originals and tasty covers soared from nimble fingers and vibrant voices. - DAVID DAWSON

See also Dixie Chicks Archived article

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