Dixie Chicks make a headlining UK return after 13 years – review

Dixie Chicks are back on tour in the UK
Dixie Chicks are back on tour in the UK

The Dixie Chicks' angelic harmonies earned the band recognition – even adoration – until they got too feisty for the South, and anti-Bush comments they made in 2003 resulted in a cataclysmic fall from grace. Despite a defiant comeback album in 2006 they have only made intermittent appearances together since then.

Opening their first headline tour of the UK in 13 years at Birmingham’s packed Barclaycard Arena, the triumphant trio proved the power lies in their musicianship, not notoriety, and their talents remain as rich and fierce as ever.

For over two hours, Natalie Maines, and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison Strayer tore through a 22-strong setlist, a night made up of half high-energy high-production, half pared-back acoustic bliss. As well as rock-tinged numbers, they pleased fans with early favourites. Long Time Gone, Cowboy Take Me Away and Goodbye Earl – an anthemic protest (in which the protagonists dispose of an abusive husband) were rousing and their eerie 2002 version of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide has improved with age.

Natalie Maines has one of the most distinctive voices in country music. Clear and soaring, it has the power to chill, and sparkled on a cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U. But Top of the World, written by Patty Griffin, has always been the best showcase for her instrument. Performed live, it had a tender melancholy and sublime harmonies from the sisters and a tremendous fiddle solo from Maguire. All night, Robison switched expertly between the Dobro, banjo, slide guitar and acoustic guitar at an astonishing rate.

The Dixie Chicks have been shaped by their turbulent history of radio boycotts, mass CD burnings and death threats, but time has passed, and they’re able to marry their heartland country roots with the controversy-courting outspokenness for which they’ve become known.

An acoustic bluegrass instrumental transported the crowd to Appalachia, before a rendition of Ready to Run was accompanied by an uproarious backing video which featured defaced images of Donald Trump and George Bush and lampooned the symbols of American pride that the Dixies Chicks have been accused of betraying. Cannons showered the audience in red, white and blue confetti – this band has never lost its sense of humour.

Watching the band beam down from the stage was a joy. “No smiling for this one,” Maines warned, introducing the multiple Grammy-winning Not Ready to Make Nice; a deafening reminder that the Dixie Chicks are still a force to be reckoned with.

For tour dates and ticket information, visit dixiechicks.com