The Chicks shortened their band name in 2020, saying that they wanted to “meet this moment” and eschew a word — “Dixie” — that is often associated with the slavery that existed in the South.
That, however, is about the only thing that has changed with the three Chicks– vocalist-guitarist Natalie Maines and multi-instrumentalists Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer — who made their Bay Area debut under their new name on Saturday (July 30) at Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View.
Otherwise, the band is still fiery, political, immensely talented and intent on giving fans plenty for their money in concert. And it’s still making great music and remaining incredibly relevant and popular, despite being basically ignored by country music radio since a major backlash occurred after the comments that Maines made about then-President George W. Bush to a London crowd in 2003.
Following a winning opening set by Jenny Lewis, the former Rilo Kiley vocalist who is supporting the 2019 solo effort “On the Line,” the mostly female crowd was treated to a steady stream of cool videos of rock acts that feature women in the lead singer role (and sometimes in other roles as well) — Blondie, Pretenders, Heart, Runaways, etc.
The last video in the string was Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” — which felt like a nod to the band’s willingness to embrace and even celebrate its own outsider role in modern-day mainstream country music — and then the Chicks appeared on stage with their superb five-piece backing band and began to roll through the rowdy opener “Sin Wagon.”
The trio was an absolute powerhouse at the start of the concert, with Maines’ work on the microphone quickly soothing over any concerns that might have still exited after the singer halted a show in Indianapolis — and then postponed a trio of others — due to vocal difficulties.
The two other band members were just as sensational, with Maguire repeatedly wowing on fiddle and Strayer showing her talents on a mind-blowing number of instruments, including guitar, piano, Dobro and, of course, banjo.
Following that opening number — which hailed from 1999’s “Fly” — the Chicks moved right into modern times and played the title track from their most recent album, 2020’s “Gaslighter.” They’d devote a little less than half the night to the new material, with 10 of the 22 songs played at the concert hailing from “Gaslighter.”
That turned about to be a very good thing, since the “Gaslighter” numbers were some of the best — and certainly most poignant — of the show. Much of the polish was gone, leaving just the raw emotion to be heard and felt, as Maines delivered aching versions of some of the songs that were inspired by her messy divorce in 2019. In particular, the pair of stripped-down “Gaslighter” tunes toward the end of the show — “Everybody Loves You” (with Strayer playing a white piano) and “Set Me Free” — were incredibly impactful.
The Chicks also used their time to get a little political — which probably everyone was expecting given what’s been going on in the world in recent months/years. They’d do so in ways that were both semi-discreet — such as Maines sporting a Ruth Bader Ginsburg shirt and performing the Patty Griffin-penned “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida.” And they’d do so in ways that were very direct, including showing a graphic of a vessel carrying select Supreme Court justices that would explode in dramatic fashion during “Tights on My Boat.”
The band closed the two-hour-plus set with two of its most popular songs — “Not Ready to Make Nice” and “Goodbye Earl” — which served to underscore that the Chicks remain one of country music’s top acts in concert.
Julianna Calm Down
The Long Way Around
My Best Friend’s Weddings
Sleep at Night
Wide Open Spaces
Tights on My Boat
Lubbock or Leave It
Cowboy Take Me Away
Long Time Gone
Don’t Let Me Die in Florida
White Trash Wedding
Everybody Loves You
Set Me Free
Not Ready to Make Nice