Long time gone

It’s been six years since the Dixie Chicks were on the road. They are just finishing a three-month tour of the U.S. followed by three weeks in Canada. Lead singer Natalie Maines came armed with some Canadian material that I’m sure she used all across the country. She said she’d seen a story on Huffington Post describing Canadians as among the happiest people in the world. After getting depressed thinking about this fact for some time, Natalie then realized, “It’s so cold here, you don’t feel any pain.”

By the time of last night’s show, where my daughter and I saw the Dixie Chicks at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, the fiasco that is Rob Ford had offered up more grist for the mill. “Wherever you are Mayor Ford, and whatever you’re smoking, this next song’s for you,” said Natalie as they launched into Sin Wagon that includes these lyrics, “One more helpin’ of what I’ve been havin’/I’m takin’ my turn on the sin wagon.”

Natalie, with Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, performed a two-hour twenty-two song setlist that’s been pretty consistent on the Long Time Gone Tour, featuring most of their hits in chronological order. The encore began with Travelin’ Soldier, the song Natalie was introducing 10 years ago just before George W. Bush launched the attack on Iraq. Her comment that night about being “embarrassed” because she was from the same state as Bush knocked the group into limbo for years. The next song in the encore was their bravura response to the world, Not Ready to Make Nice. The final song was a Bob Dylan cover, Mississippi. Last concert I was at, Pearl Jam also used a cover to conclude, Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World.

Natalie has a new hairdo. According to Natalie, when her schoolboy son saw it for the first time, he said, “I hate it. It’s hideous. It makes you look ugly.” He’s right. The blond is gone, replaced by black, shorn on the sides with a lickspittle bubble on the top. In her short shorts she looked both butch and like Justin Beiber at the same time.

The trouble with going to concerts is that other people are there. This crowd was three-quarters women in their thirties, often in packs of six, like bridesmaids in Vegas. In another era, the crowd would hold up Bic lighters all aflame in tribute. These days, all you see is the lit screens of smartphones with faces staring at the technology. As if there wasn’t a great performance going on around them.

Such obnoxious behaviour used to take place only in piano bars where people were drinking and chatting and the entertainment might as well have been wallpaper. Now, no matter how good the group, or what pyrotechnics are exploding on stage, it’s almost impossible to attract and maintain everybody’s attention. You wonder why some people even bother to come, the show seems so incidental. Unless it’s so they can add a few selfies to their collection from a new location.

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