The Texas trio emerged from the shadows this evening as "Hail to the Chief" echoed throughout the arena. It might be about the music, but it's about the politics, too. No doubt about that. Maines' public indictments of the Bush Administration have made her opinion clear, and the tongue-in-cheek inclusion of the presidential salutation proved that her song remains the same.
The crux of Maines' comments – in short, that she's "ashamed" to be from the same state as the president – have alienated wide swaths of the band's once limitless fan base. But it looks as if the Dixie Chicks are making strides to return to public grace. In fact, at times this evening served as a searing symbol of the recent sea change in American politics.
If the crowd at Pepsi Center is any indication – for instance, thousands enthusiastically hollered approval during the recent single "Not Ready to Make Nice," which did not do well at country radio – faltering support of Republican ideals is translating into renewed faith in the outspokenly left-leaning Chicks.
On the other hand, it must be noted that there's still obvious fallout to overcome. The band has sold out this arena before, yet at least 10 seating sections were empty or blocked off tonight.
Still, that didn't distract the Chicks. They appeared focused, if, at times, more reflective than buoyant, from the start. The opening "Lubbock or Leave It" brought fans to their feet, and by the third song (a barn-burning take on their hit "Goodbye, Earl"), overwhelming encouragement was undeniable.
Much of appeal is the Dixie Chicks' ability to seamlessly shift spectrums. One moment, the new "Lullaby," a song written for their combined seven children, sent a wave of introspection through the arena. The next, Maines had the crowd howling by dedicating "White Trash Wedding" to Kevin Federline. "Whether it's a bottle of Cristal or a Mickey's 40 – this is for K-Fed," she joked.
All of which showed that more probably adore the Dixie Chicks than curse them, and they still offer a broad appeal. Looking around, those present were equal parts rural ranch hands, urban cowboys and bubbly sorority girls. Even popular acts like Toby Keith or Faith Hill would be hard pressed to achieve such widespread interest.
In large part, chalk that up to their significant musical talent. Like her opinions, Maines has a love it or loathe it kind of voice, but it's easy to be seduced by Emily Robison's fluid banjo and Dobro work and Martie Maguire's excellent roadhouse fiddling.