At the Dixie Chicks concert Saturday at the Pyramid, country legend Willie Nelson opened the show with a quick, rambling greatest hits set obviously geared towards a crowd that probably wasnt very familiar with his huge catalogue. So Nelson stuck to obvious fare like Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Always on My Mind, and his de facto theme song, On the Road Again. Playing before a backdrop that promoted his Web site (
www.willienelson.com, if you were wondering) and with a seven-piece band that included bass, harmonica, piano (looked like his sister Bobbie), two percussionists, and two additional guitars, this was classic Nelson-- braided ponytails, red bandana, and red, white, and blue guitar strap.
Nelson closed his set with a mini-tribute to two of the few American musicians whose stature rivals his own, offering up versions of Hank Williams Jambalaya and My Buckets Got a Hole In It, and the Elvis-identified Just Because. And, speaking of the King, Nelson tossed red bandanas to the crowd with the frequency that Vegas-era Elvis used to toss scarves.
Nelsons set seemed a little off, as if the weirdness of his being an opening act and the musically unfriendly arena atmosphere were cramping his style. In this context, the Dixie Chicks put on a better show, in fact, one of the best arena shows Ive seen in a long time. The rootsy pop band played an 18-song set and two-song encore before an adoring sell-out crowd of dolled-up dixie chicks and the guys who tagged along. Live, they confirmed two of my previously held beliefs: That theyre a lot better on the up-tempo pop stuff than the slow ones and harder country songs, and that although their records are merely decent, this is about the most invigorating and culturally righteous really popular pop music around today.
Cynics and lazy critics grouse that the band is a country music Spice Girls, but, as this performance made clear, the world that produced country icons past isnt the same one that produced the Dixie Chicks, and this band speaks to and for their female, suburban fan base in as honest, direct, and engaging a manner as you could hope.
Opening the show with their best single, the not-ready-to-settle-down anthem Ready to Run and closing the dopier sexual liberation manifesto Sin Wagon, this isnt your grandmothers country music, and I say good for them. Glammed-up, moving freely around the stage, and leading their all-male band with the musical skill critics like to gloss over, the show leaned heavily on their two multi-platinum albums, and if neither of those records is quite ready for the time capsule, the shows succession of engaging and recognizing hits -- even to a non-fan like me -- proved that this band has a pretty good greatest hits album in their future.
After a brief pause, the band opened their encore by surprising the crowd with lead singer Natalie Maines playing from the concert floor at the back of the hall and sisters Martie Seidel (violin) and Emily Robison (mandolin) playing from the rafters on opposite ends of the Pyramid. The band played, Goodbye Earl, their controversial hit about a woman who murders her abusive husband. The band then returned to the stage for a show-closing crowd sing-along of its own de facto theme song, Wide Open Spaces, sending everybody home happy.
(You can write Chris Herrington at email@example.com)