Concert Review / By Darren Hancock / Dixie Chicks With Smooth Hound Smith At First Ontario Centre April 17 2017

Smooth Hound Smith
Starting off the evening was a little-known husband and wife duet called “Smooth Hound Smith”. Performing in a simple four-piece band, they produced an authentic blues sound with a country-rooted edge. In addition to being a singer and very prolific guitarist, Zack Smith also plays harmonica and banjo, while his wife Caitlin Doyle belts out the tunes and plays the tambourine. One thing about this group: they have a wonderfully unique style of folky, garage-infused rhythm & blues that had toes tapping and hands clapping. Their website describes them best: “Using primal foot percussion, complex, fuzzed-out, finger-picked guitar patterns, warbled harmonicas, tasty harmonies and A LOT of tambourine, they are able to create something rugged and visceral- a modern interpretation of early blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll music that harkens back to the traditions of hazy front porch folk songs as well as raucous back-alley juke joints.” Zack told the crowd what an honor it was to open for the Dixie Chicks, and the group played “My Hearts Not Broken Yet”, masterfully sung by Caitlin. “Knocking At My Door” seamlessly merged bluegrass and blues and had the crowd revved up. Zack showcased his guitar chops performing an amazing slide guitar solo to end their show, priming the audience for the main event.
Dixie Chicks
After a brief intermission, the lights dimmed in the stadium and the crowd rose to their feet. Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy” blasted through the sound system, and when the song ended, the Dixie Chicks members Martie, Emily and Natalie took to the stage with their band and went right into their first song of the night “The Long Way Around”. The stage setup was very simple, with a keyboard riser on the left, a drum riser on the right, a few guitars and mic stands – the drum kit, keyboards, guitars, fiddles, even the microphones and mic stands were all pure WHITE as a barrage of video graphics displayed on the back wall and on the front surfaces of the drum and keyboard risers. The first song was immediately followed by “Lubbock or Leave It” and  the catchy number “Truth #2”. Natalie shouted “Well Hello Hamilton..!!” causing an uproar of screaming fans, telling everyone they looked fantastic and she liked what they were wearing, the band then played “Easy Silence” while a lyric video with words timed to what she was singing played on the back wall. After performing their upbeat tunes “Some Days You Gotta Dance” and “Long Time Gone”, Natalie then announced they were going to pay tribute to a friend who we all lost recently. “It’s hard to believe but Prince died just as we were starting this tour and we quickly put this song in the set,” she said introducing the song. “So here’s a little tribute to Prince.” The stage turned purple, a hieroglyphic symbol appeared in the middle of the back screen, and Natalie sang a heart wrenching rendition of “Nothing Compares 2U” written by fallen musician and musical legend Prince, with a steel guitar solo played by Emily… what incredible talent! The next tune “Top Of The World” was written by one of the Chicks’ favorite songwriters Patty Griffin, followed by fan favorite “Goodbye Earle”, and everyone stood on their feet and sang every lyric while the backdrop displayed old black & white images of women who had committed crimes of passion in the 19thcentury (and their male victims)… even a meme of Donald Trump as the Devil appeared, and the crowd ate it up. Then something unique happened: The entire band left the stage as a car chase video played starring the Dixie Chicks, and stage hands swept and cleared the stage, and set up a small drum kit at the front of the stage. After a costume change, the whole band lined up at the front of the stage sitting on blocks and played another Patty Griffin penned tune called “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida”.
Announcing they were about to perform a Beyoncé song, Natalie first explained how they had vowed to never play on CMA’s again until Beyoncé called in 2016 asking them to join her for a CMA performance of “Daddy Lessons”. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Maines said about their performance with Beyoncé. “I’ll say after childbirth, because that’s what you’re supposed to say.” Next up was the bluegrassy fan favorite “White trash Wedding”, and Natalie introduced the band members, surprising most by announcing the guitarist was from Hamilton Ontario and the longest-running band member is from Montreal Quebec!! Go Canada! “Travelling Soldier” closed the first half of the show, and after an intermission they returned with an instrumental number beginning with Natalie beating on a drum, joined by her Chick partners Martie and Emily on Fiddle and banjo, incorporating melodies from pop hits like “I Can’t Feel My Face”. During their smash hit “Ready To Run”, the stadium was filled with red White and blue confetti. After performing the Bob Dylan tune “Mississippi”, Natalie told her captive audience that they recorded their next song “Landslide” 15 years ago when they were “one baby in” (Natalie was 25); “I remember really feeling connected to the line ‘I’m getting older too,'” Maines said. “Now we’ve got nine babies … and that line is just annoying.” After singing “Cowboy Take Me Away” she told the crowd “You guys have been awesome tonight” and the band wrapped up the show with “Wide open Spaces” – Maines had the audience sing a chorus – and the upbeat number “Sin Wagon”, and with a super-charged “Goodnight” the band left the stage. Of course no one was leaving, and after several minutes of the loudest shouting I have ever heard at a concert, they returned for an encore. Telling the crowd that this was the 81st show out of 82, the Chicks performed their poignant hit “Not Ready To Make Nice”, after which Maines asked “Are you ready to change the energy of the Universe?” as a lineup of young kids entered the stage playing instruments and they ended the night with the triumphant song “Better Way”, leaving every fan both satisfied and wanting more.

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