With their first American tour in 10 years, the Dixie Chicks have broken ground for female acts once again.
They have joined the music industry’s most elite company — Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Billy Joel and a handful of other artists — who can mount a successful arena tour without any new material.
As they showed the crowd at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, they have found a way to rework their songs to fit the current landscape — both musical and cultural.
And nothing was timelier than closing the show with the Ben Harper protest song “Better Way” to show support for those affected by Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“We cannot let the hatred and the anger win out,” singer Natalie Maines said. “We gotta put positivity out there in the universe.”
And, for the most part, that’s what the Dixie Chicks did for more than two hours, rolling through one classic after another.
Yes, they poked fun at Donald Trump by defacing his picture during “Goodbye Earl” and turned all the presidential candidates into clowns for the “Ready to Run” video backdrop. But those bits passed without comment.
Their focus instead was clearly on sharpening the music. With no new material in the past decade, there was the possibility of this tour feeling like a time capsule from the George W. Bush administration — a time when they soared to become the best-selling female group of all time and then were shunned by country radio and fans for their comments criticizing Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.
But Monday, the Dixie Chicks pulled out all the stops to keep that boycott from happening again. The harmonic blend between Maines and sisters Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire is as poignant as ever on “Wide Open Spaces” and even on their version of Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons.”
As lovely a tribute as “Nothing Compares 2 U” was to the late Prince, The Chicks’ swagger on Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi” was even more compelling.
The addition of kettle drum to “Top of the World” created even more drama when paired with Maguire’s fiddle playing. “Long Time Gone” was slower and more rhythm-oriented, with a bigger bass sound.
And the way the Dixie Chicks used the video backdrop during “Goodbye Earl” to make a powerful statement — about domestic abuse and how celebrities such as O.J. Simpson and Chris Brown are treated differently than the abused women who fight back — shows that the band has been paying attention to concert changes in the past decade.
Maybe the huge reaction The Chicks received will persuade them not to stay away for so long next time.
SET LIST: The Long Way Around / Lubbock or Leave It / Truth #2 / Easy Silence / Favorite Year / Some Days You Gotta Dance / Long Time Gone / Nothing Compares 2 U / Top of the World / Goodbye Earl / Travelin’ Soldier / Daddy Lessons / White Trash Wedding / Bluegrass Instrumental / Ready to Run / Mississippi / Landslide / Silent House / Cowboy Take Me Away / Wide Open Spaces / Sin Wagon // ENCORE: Not Ready to Make Nice / Better Way