SAN DIEGO The Dixie Chicks were "Ready To Run," they announced with their opening number Thursday night at Cox Arena. They also were ready to leave the stage and roam through the sold-out, 10,000-capacity arena, encoring the sing-along revenge fantasy "Goodbye Earl" from deep within the audience.
And the pretty Fly trio were ready, and able, to rock 'n' roll, deliver sensitive ballads, strut their instrumental stuff, poke fun at themselves or at least younger versions of themselves and, to top it off, make it snow in the summertime. Indoors.
"We've got one thing to say," lead singer Natalie Maines said early on, even though the Chicks would have plenty to talk about as their set unfolded. "The rules are, there are no rules."
A Dixie Chicks show is indeed a bit unruly. There was a real buzz here even before the show started, and that wasn't due solely to the fly-themed sound effects (accompanied by a giant inflatable, well, superfly). The trio arrived onstage to a raucous response even from those who had little better than a ponytail view of Maines that didn't fade as the Chicks ran through their nearly two-hour show.
The Chicks, with Emily Robison playing banjo and Martie Seidel on fiddle, established their trademark close-harmony sound on "Ready To Run" (RealAudio excerpt) and "There's Your Trouble." Wearing leather outfits topped with plenty of glitter, the threesome exposed their roots on "Hello, Mr. Heartache," a honky-tonk lament later echoed by "Tonight the Heartache's on Me," where Seidel's fiddle solo stood out above the strong playing of the group's six-man band.
The night featured several ballads, such as the wrenching "You Were Mine" and "Without You," accompanied by a baffling Alpine video. The snow job seemed more appropriate on "Cold Day in July," where the crowd was dusted by an indoor flurry.
The Chicks struck a responsive chord in the crowd, whose cowboys-to-cowgirls ratio was weighted in favor of the latter, on the powerful "I Can Love You Better."
Letting loose, the Chicks romped through "Sin Wagon" (RealAudio excerpt), Maines' manic tribute to "mattress dancin'," and, with a Robison dobro solo that especially impressed the crowd, Bonnie Raitt's tough-minded "Give It Up or Let Me Go," the last track on their breakthrough album, Wide Open Spaces. They also covered the Sheryl Crow ballad "Strong Enough."
Things turned intimate when the trio retreated to a big couch fashioned midstage, where they were joined by singer-songwriter Patty Griffin on her "Let Him Fly." Griffin had opened the show with a set of trance-country that had been largely swallowed up by the failed acoustics in the glorified gymnasium. "I feel like I'm at a pep rally," Seidel said at one point.
Still couch-bound, Seidel and Robison paid quick tribute to their bluegrass background before launching into a "Hee Haw"-inspired, Mandrell Sisters-style showcase of their prowess.
"What a lot of people don't realize is, they're cute girls and they can sing, but they're also experts on their instruments," said Tom Conrady, an old friend of the father of Seidel and Robison, née the Erwin sisters. "They were young whippersnappers."
The Chicks themselves had less kind words, if not concerning their early musical abilities, at least of their childhood looks. "We've never been afraid of humiliating ourselves," Maines said, as a slide show revealed a colorful (mauve, in particular) progression of youthful fashion disasters, with the three dissing each bad perm or mullet haircut.