The Dixie Chicks used to be one of the most controversial acts in all of music. After openly criticizing the war in Iraq and former President George W. Bush, they were boycotted by millions, their records were burned and their bank accounts took a massive hit. But time changes perspective. What was once a minority opinion is now shared by many.
The Texas trio—vocalist Natalie Maines and multi-instrumentalists Martie Erwin Maguire and Emily Erwin Robison—never wavered. Instead, they built a new base of fans and helped to modernize the way the genre is perceived. Friday at Oracle Arena, the second Bay Area stop-over on their ongoing DCX MMXIV Tour, the Chicks amped up the message as another Presidential election nears.
“I’ve never felt more relatable to George W. Bush than on this election, when even he is voting for Hillary,” Maines told roughly 15,000 at Oracle midway through Friday’s concert. “He’s not a complete idiot.”
Maines avoided talking about the day in election cycle misfires, instead letting her lyrics—and the video screen at the back of the stage—tell the story. Prior to a cover of Patti Griffin’s “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida,” which Maines said her tour manager tried to talk the Dixie Chicks out of playing as long as the state’s residents were threatened by Hurricane Matthew, she said the message was still too important to pass up.
Later in their set, “Ready To Run,” from fan favorite album Fly, was accompanied by images of all of the presidential candidates portrayed as asses and clowns, and red, white and blue confetti rained down.
And perhaps the evening’s most meta-relevant moment came during another Fly track, “Goodbye Earl,” the lyrics of which describe killing a woman’s abuser. The video board scrolled through images of criminal mug shots. Mostly from the earlier last century. But they did include booking photos of O.J. Simpson and Chris Brown, as well as an image of Republican nominee Donald Trump, with devil horns drawn in.
Musically, the show was a bit of a mixed bag, with up-tempo tunes and slower songs switching off one after another, a plethora of covers, and a lack of pre-Fly material. The band’s first three albums were ignored completely, while their 1998 breakout hit Wide Open Spaces had only the title track on the setlist.
Still, when those covers include Fleetwood Mac, Beyonce, Prince, Griffin, Bob Dylan and a couple of others, it’s enough to make a show interesting.
The Prince cover, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” also happened to be one of the concert’s best moments. The slower songs, which focused on multi-part harmony and often intricate violin by Maguire and mandolin from one the Chicks’ five backing musicians, also hit their target.
Country and soul singer-songwriter Elle King opened the show with a mix of southern-fried pop songs. While Top 40 hit “Ex’s & Oh’s” got the biggest reaction from Dixie Chicks fans, King was at her best when she was playing banjo on the more traditional numbers. King later joined the Chicks on stage to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”