From celebrating Pride to calling out the cops, Chicks stay fearless
Who: The Chicks with Maren Morris
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
When: Mon., Sept. 18th, 2023
Vibe: Country music hungry for change
Highlight: Playful and folksy mashup of Daddy Lessons and Long Time Gone
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
PEOPLE ARE OFTEN very surprised to hear that I like country music. I am the very antithesis of a modern country fan: I think beer is gross, I look awful in a trucker hat, and I don’t know how to drive, so owning a pick-up is out of the question. I’m also queer and think everyone deserves basic human rights. I do, however, love a good mandolin part and a song you can stomp your feet to; so, it’s with great excitement that I head down to the Scotiabank Arena to see feminist-country icons The Chicks perform.
Maren Morris opens up the show, just days after announcing she’s leaving country music because of how the genre as a whole is unwilling to confront its deep-rooted bigotry and discrimination. Part of me hopes she’ll reconsider and try tearing it down from within because Maren Morris makes damn good country. She gets the whole arena waving flashlights for her 2020 hit The Bones. I’m not super familiar with her music, but I gladly sway to the song with the rest of the crowd. Before playing her newest release, The Tree, that came out accompanying her statement, she gives a shoutout to The Chicks for helping pave the way for progressive politics in modern country music:
“I really just admire anyone that sticks by their moral code even if they lose some people along the way. So, let’s burn it down.” The Tree has a vintage touch to it; combined with the message of the song, it reminds me of what country used to be —music rooted in community, challenging the status quo and telling the stories of the oppressed. Morris ends her set with an older song, My Church, which is a modern country pop song through and through, but one I have no issue singing along to with its feel-good gospel chorus.
The Chicks come on stage with a dizzying technicolour display behind them and start their performance off with their song Gaslighter, which I think is The Chicks at their very best — cheeky, catchy, with perfect three-part harmonies and the perfect amount of twang.
The next song is Sin Wagon, and if anyone wasn’t on their feet already for Gaslighter, they sure as hell are now. Every person on stage gets their time to shine on that track, with fun solo after fun solo. Later comes My Best Friend’s Weddings. Where Gaslighter and Sin Wagon are raucous, this song is simple and full of heart.
While I may be a casual fan of The Chicks, it is amazing to see three women have so much fun on stage while also having complete mastery over their craft. Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire are both balls of energy, constantly moving around the stage and flying through lightning-fast riffs on their various instruments. Natalie Maines anchors it all at the centre of the stage with a grounded magnetism. It’s no secret that she has a powerful voice, but hearing it live is another thing altogether. With a vibrant collage-style video/light display, the show is a visual spectacle. But even just the three Chicks alone would be more than enough to keep my eyes glued to the stage.
I grew up listening to a lot of bluegrass on small stages and in festival pub tents, which would always feel like you were at a party with the band. They manage to evoke that on Daddy Lessons, standing in close and all stomping and hollering.
Before Cowboy Take Me Away, the stage is reset. It now resembles a songwriters’ circle, with the whole band sitting next to each other for the softer part of the show.
For decades, The Chicks have been unafraid to speak out about things that matter to them, and this tour is no different. Natalie loudly proclaims that pride is every day of the year and invites the crowd to join in on a singalong cover of Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus’s Rainbowland, complete with karaoke-style lyrics on the screen, a unicorn marker bouncing above the words. Me and my equally gay friend cheer along as rainbow strobe lights illuminate the crowd.
For March March, the show takes a more sombre note, with footage from various social justice protests and the names of people killed by police brutality. The Chicks have been earnest in their political beliefs for a long time, and it’s heartening to see them understand the importance of being advocates and supporters of the BLM movement and queer rights in a genre that is so deeply entrenched in racism and homophobia. The song itself feels like a call to action and a dedication to the people who are willing to put themselves on the front lines to make the necessary changes we need in the world.
Their last two songs for the night are Not Ready to Make Nice and Goodbye Earl. Putting these songs back to back shows why The Chicks have had such staying power despite a lot of road bumps: they can just as easily make a chart-topping pop ballad as they can a campy, feminist bluegrass tune. It’s a great note to go out on. An arena full of women singing about killing abusive men is something I think everyone should experience at least once in their lives. With the hook of Goodbye Earl stuck in my head and a sudden urge to buy a pair of cowboy boots, I head home feeling a little more hopeful about the future of country music.
—Brighid Fry is lead singer in Housewife