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Dixie Chicks are on fire in return gig at First Niagara Center

The Dixie Chicks have been gone a long time. Prior to Saturday, the band – once the biggest in country music – hasn’t played Buffalo since 2003, and no major tour has been mounted since 2006.

Ten years is an eternity in pop music. Consider that the Beatles went from “She Loves You” to “Helter Skelter” in a shorter time span. People forget. Who can blame them? Most pop music is made to be forgotten, so that the next in line can shuffle their product unimpeded.

All but run out of town for standing firm by their beliefs – including criticizing George W. Bush and the decision to invade Iraq during a period of time when America was involved in an extended period of right-wing knee-jerk intolerance – the Dixie Chicks kicked it in the head and concentrated on family endeavors instead of music. There might have been some licking of wounds involved, too, but there certainly was no apology forthcoming, country music establishment be damned.

So there would be no guarantees of an audience waiting with bated breath when the band mounted its MMXVI World Tour earlier this year. And yet, in most markets, the Chicks packed ’em in this summer, earning rave reviews in the process. Surprising, then, that Saturday’s First Niagara Center show was filled only to about 75 percent capacity. Buffalo has been a big market for the band from the beginning. Perhaps it is also a less forgiving one.

No matter. The Chicks – Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire, multi-instrumentalists all – arrived on fire, and stoked the flames through a 20-plus song set that touched on every aspect of their career.

What grabbed you first was the fact that frontwoman Maines is a fireball, and that she just plain does not care what anyone thinks of her. How refreshing in a pop music world stuffed to the brim with narcissistic egomaniacs who, one imagines, don’t go to the corner store without first consulting with a stylist and image manager.

The stage went dark, the crowd got loud, and then the next four minutes were given to a full-volume playback of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” before the band arrived with the raucous one-two combo of “The Long Way Around” and “Lubbock or Leave It,” two songs that reflect the Chicks’ ambivalent relationship with the country music establishment.

The second Prince tribute of the night came a few songs in, when the rear projection screen was given over to the late genius’ male-female hybrid glyph, and Maines sang the hell out of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” A guy behind me turned to his date and said, “Oh, it’s that stupid Sinead O’Connor song,” which was kind of sad. (Dude, you need to start studying, or you’re definitely gonna blow the final exam.)

The audience’s response to this was somewhat muted, but Maines’ performance was breathtaking.

The band – which featured drummer Jimmy Paxson and guitarist Justin Weaver, both of whom are Buffalo natives, according to Maines – went from strength to strength. “Easy Silence,” a tune that praises a lover for knowing when to be still and let the quiet offer its healing, was truly beautiful. A countrified interpretation of Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” lent credence to Maines’ introductory insistence that Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is “the most important album since Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ ”; and an inspired “Ready to Run” featured a brilliant video montage that employed manipulated images to mock every single candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

So, no, the Dixie Chicks still aren’t ready to make nice, 10 years later. God bless ’em. I hope some of their peers take note.


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