The visual backdrop and stage outfits for Saturday’s first of two sold-out State Fair grandstand concerts by the Dixie Chicks all matched in black and white, and for performance itself mostly followed suit.
It was a concert. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a very well-paced and musically rich concert.
Back on the road 10 years since their last U.S. tour — and 13 years after they staked their career on trash-talking President George W. Bush — the widely celebrated and sometimes fiercely scorned Texas country trio did not serve up any blatant political grandstanding to the 13,162 fans in the grandstand.
It was the singer in the opening soul-rock band Vintage Trouble who actually made the most fiery firebrand statement. “We have to always speak our mind for what we believe in,” Ty Taylor yelled to introduce “Not Alright By Me,”one of the few slow songs in his group’s impressively hard-shimmying set.
Instead of catering to any blue-leaning Minnesotans, the Chicks played more to the state’s purple hue. They took the stage to a recording of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and then played their own version of his most fragile classic, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Anyone who’s called Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines “mouthy” over the years would be hard-pressed to argue with what her pipes were spewing during those four purely riveting minutes.
Before she stepped out in the Prince showpiece, Maines came off like just one of the Chicks again. She and her bandmates — banjoist Emily Strayer and violinist Martie Maguire — easily fell back into the harmonious chemistry that made them the top-selling all-woman band of all time with their 1998-2003 albums.
Saturday’s set list was mostly plucked from that heyday era, although they opened the show with the title track off their last album, 2006’s “Taking the Long Way,”and kicked off the encore in dramatic fashion with that LP’s “Not Ready to Make Nice” (co-written with Minnesota’s own Dan Wilson).
The visibly excited crowd — which bought up tickets fast enough for Sunday’s concert to be quickly added to the fair schedule — especially went ga-ga for the oldies “Wide Open Spaces,” “Cowboy Take Me Away” and their battered-woman battle song, “Goodbye Earl.” The latter was greeted with a Springsteen-like singalong, making a nice mid-show peak before an acoustic set that kicked off with “Travelin’ Soldier.”
Without new material, the Chicks and their tight five-piece backing band freshened up their set with several more cover songs, including one from another Minnesota legend: Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi,” which they gave a swinging rocky vibe. They veered more to pure bluegrass with the more surprising choice of the night, Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons,” a perfect fit with their own songs’ feminist undercurrent.
Maines didn’t entirely steer clear of controversy, however. Near the start of the set, she coyly told the crowd “the first things she thinks of when she thinks of Minnesota.” Her answers were “Wayne’s World”and “Laverne & Shirley,”both Milwaukee exports.
Let the hate mail begin again.