The Chicks performing their World Tour 2023 at The Utilita Arena Birmingham on Sunday 2nd July 2023.

Review by Kevin Cooper

Fresh off the back of their performance at Glastonbury on Sunday 25th June, The Chicks were in the UK for a run of live dates that included a concert at Birmingham’s Utilita Arena on Sunday night, their first trip to the UK since 2016, and it was a packed crowd that welcomed back.

Twenty years ago whilst performing at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire they took the bold decision to call out George W Bush on the eve of America’s invasion of Iraq and told the crowd that they were ashamed that the then President hailed from Texas. That remark triggered a backlash back home and they were blacklisted by thousands of country radio stations and even received death threats.

But now they are back but show no signs of leaving their politics at the front door. Formed in 1990 and called The Dixie Chicks, the band’s attention to the fact that their name winked to the Confederate American South, and when in 2020 America was dealing with the fallout of the racist killing of George Floyd, they quietly changed their name to The Chicks.

Touring to promote Gaslight, their first album to be released in fourteen years, Joan Jets’ Bad Reputation announced their arrival on stage, and lead vocalist Natalie Maines, sisters Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire launched into the title track of the album, and set the pace for the night. Having been involved in an acrimonious divorce, Maines had written this song about lies, denial, and gaslighting while images of women at war flashed on the huge screen behind them.

Sin Wagon, from 1999’s Fly was delivered with a great fiery energy and got the crowd dancing and bouncing along from the off and on new song Texas Man Maguire excelled on violin and Strayer strummed her banjo.

Unsurprisingly songs from the new album dominated the set list and the likes of Julianna Calm Down saw Maines dancing along and clicking her fingers, whilst Tights On My Boat had images on the screen showing Putin and Trump drowning together on an inflatable unicorn dingy with lyrics that promised that they would get what was coming to them.

Another new song My Best Friend’s Wedding featured a lush cello melody and biting lyrics alongside the band’s sweet harmonies and the emotional Sleep At Night was played against a video backdrop of burned out cars and shattering glass. They also performed their activist anthem March March as clips from the Black Lives Matter movement played behind them.

And there was still plenty for fans of the bands earlier material to enjoy too. Taking The Long Way was empowering and uplifting, whilst Ready To Run paired punchy drums with an incredible fiddle solo from Maguire and Strayer showed off her dobro skills on the moving Bruce Robison’s Travelin’ Soldier.

Maguire and Strayer were quietly charismatic and extremely talented, but the true force was Maines who delivered a blistering cover of Beyonce’s Daddy Lessons that truly stole the show. A real highlight was the acoustic section that came midway through the set following a brief video of band intros, the trio arrive on stage to kick off the quartet of songs with Cowboy Take Me Away. Maines introduced an acoustic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, noting that she had just given birth to her son Slade when she recorded the song and then introduced him to the crowd as he opened the chords on his guitar to the song that provided a touching moment.

The trio followed up with their tribute to Pride Month with their version of Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton’s Rainbowland before they closed the section with a sharp driving take on Patty Griffin’s Please Don’t Let Me Die In Florida. With a band that they have been playing with for decades, The Chicks’ camaraderie is clear on stage, none more so as the three of them crowded around Maines’s microphone at the end of the touching For Her, with both Strayer and Maguire playing the fiddle.

The biggest reaction was reserved for the main set closer, White Trash Wedding which showcased a rattling melody and funky bass line and saw the crowd whooping and cheering from the opening chords. Closing their set with the thumping Everybody Loves You, a defiant performance of Not Ready To Make Nice before Goodbye Earl Had the crowd singing and dancing along.

The pop country icons had delivered a high energy performance, with powerful political messages and soulful country music to a crowd that undoubtedly appreciated a band that had enormous grins on their faces as they took their bows with the band, before waving their goodbyes, until next time.