Dixie Chicks, Yoakam, Yearwood, Harris get it right
Universal Amphitheatre, Universal City, Cal., Feb. 26, 2002
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - The Dixie Chicks continued their return to the concert stage with this triumphant pre-Grammy night performance. With only a few exceptions, the trio has halted its touring in order to birth a new album. But most importantly of all, this break allowed lead singer Natalie Maines to give birth to her first child.
This all-star show was in support of the RAC (Recording Artists Coalition), a non-partisan coalition designed to represent recording artists in legislative issues where record company and artists' interests conflict. Chief among them currently is a battle in California to limit recording contracts to seven years.
This particular event, which also featured performances by Dwight Yoakam, Trisha Yearwood and Emmylou Harris, was the country quarter of four other such shows held around town on this eve of the Grammy Awards program.
The Chicks weren't all the way ready to fly, though, as a false start on their big hit "Wide Open Spaces" exemplified. But then again, one imagines they're just itching to play songs from their upcoming new release, now that it's completed. A performance of the quietly acoustic "Travelin' Soldier" hinted at what this forthcoming album might sound like.
A special appearance by banjo great Earl Scruggs and dobro master Jerry Douglas on the instrumental "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" backed up the group's declaration that this new recording has them moving in a more acoustic/bluegrass direction.
Still this set mostly consisted of older hits like "There's Your Trouble" and "Cowboy Take Me Away."
Although these Chicks appeared a tad flight-wary after their brief sabbatical, expectations are high for when they're finally ready again to take off from the nest.
Dwight Yoakam preceded the Chicks with a fired-up set of mainly upbeat material. Who else in country music but Yoakam could pull off playing a Cheap Trick song ("I Want You To Want Me") and a Queen hit ("Crazy Little Thing Called Love") in the very same set? Everything he touches ends up sounding like it was always country, however, due to Yoakam's pleasantly nasal vocal delivery.
Guitarist Peter Anderson also gives Yoakam's music extra bite, as he showed off about a million and one things you can do with a lead guitar throughout Yoakam's short rockin' set.
You wouldn't characterize Trisha Yearwood's set as rockin', though, as she turned to ballads like "The Song Remembers When" and "Like We Never Had A Broken Heart" to fill out her performance. But she also turned up the heat with "Perfect Love" and "Wrong Side of Memphis."
Yearwood appeared loose and in good spirits, even when a sound snafu all but ruined "Love Alone." She assured the audience that the popping sounds they heard during this song were not bullets. Later in the set, she borrowed a cell phone from an audience member and sang into the receiver. She ended by telling them she wished they were there.
Emmylou Harris was flanked by the Millers (husband and wife, Julie and Buddy, on each side of her) for an all-acoustic set, much like her performance little more than a week ago at this very same venue as part of the "Down From The Mountain" tour.
As usual, Harris sounded beautiful, whether singing a duet with Buddy on "Love Hurts" or being assisted by Julie's harmonies on "Orphan Girl."
Opener Patty Griffin returned to the stage at the end of Harris' set to sing "Mary." With two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks joining together with Harris and the Millers, it gave off the impression of being a Patty Griffin Appreciation Society gathering. Griffin opened the proceedings earlier with a few songs on her own, assisted by a second guitarist.
For an evening billed as a concert for artists' rights, these artists sure got it right this night.