It has been six long years since country music royalty, The Chicks, last graced Australian shores. Returning in the light of their 2020 studio album, Gaslighter; The Chicks once again echoed their routine sell-out of Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. Coupled with Ohio’s country-pop royalty Elle King, this Monday night hoedown played out as a dream come true for eagerly awaiting country music enthusiasts.
From the first beat, Elle King had transformed Melbourne’s inner-city arena into an all-American bluegrass festival. Carrying such strong Midwest influence in both her musical performance and stage persona, Elle’s presencewas intoxicating. Not only do her classic americana vocals bring an authenticity to the set, but so do her incredible four-piece band – who played a rhythmically flawless catalogue of upbeat hits.
Elle comes across to audiences as a multi-dimensional performer. At once being a bright, pastel Barbie sweetheart, before seamlessly tapping into a raw and unapologetic female powerhouse persona. Although, after spending the better part of an hour with her, it is likely Elle’s ‘persona’ is less of a façade, and more an upscaled display of her gorgeous, bubbly personality. The most anticipated moment of the set was experiencing the chart-topping hit Ex’s & Oh’s live. Perfectly positioned as an audience vocal warm-up, the single also acted as a way of signalling an obvious post-virality change of pace in the songwriter’sdiscography. Since 2014, Elle has retained her angsty lyrical undertones, whilst leaning into a more authentic bluegrass, country-rock sound.
Showcasing her latest LP, Come Get Your Wife, bluesy keys and guitars played out the set. Bouncing around the stage, the performer boasted about the joys of being a mother, eventually bringing her gorgeous two-year old son to the stage – the inspiration behind her 2023 single Lucky. The warm, homely energy mustered on stage acted as an easy sell for fans of The Chicks, who at their roots are a fanbase built upon female strength and empowerment.
Counting thirteen GRAMMY Awards, six Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards is only the tip of the iceberg when considering the huge success The Chicks (formally Dixie Chicks), have amounted over their more than three-decade long career. Returning to Australia for the fifth time, Melbourne fans were more than ready to experience The Chicks once more, but this time with a fresh name, and an even fresher sound. Gaslighter is a ground-breaking album for country listeners – pairing the best of bluegrass instrumentalism with country-pop lyricism, and bound by bold, feminist undertones and branding. This new era of The Chicks has broadened the scope for the band’s fanbase, reinforcing them as a household name year after year.
Sparkling cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats filled the arena floor, as the night’s main act took to the stage. Anticipation filled the air, and was completely devoured by a trippy, television-static visuals on stage. Disorientating the crowd with the hums of instrumental tuning, radio segments, and distorted snippets of their discography; we were in for not only a musical concert, but a high-production spectacle. Hypnotic imaging and artistically skewed feminist propaganda of the past joined the iconic opening harmonies of title track, Gaslighter. Suddenly dropping the halfway curtain on stage to reveal a multi-level six-piece band, along with three freestanding mics for the leading ladies. Dressedto the nines, founding bandmembers Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire made their way downstage, maintaining the pace of the upbeat, country heartbreak anthem. Soon after being met by lead vocalist Natalie Maines; the band had once again been reunited, ready to treat fans to a two-hour ‘best of’ special.
Sin Wagon was a major change of pace, fulfilling the crowd’s need for some classic country dance music. Accompanied by fast-paced banjo and fiddle, the musical talents of The Chicks is beyond belief. Playing with such versatility and effortlessness, it was impossible to take your eyes off the trio dressed in gorgeous, classy black and bejewelled leather. Performing their new album in close to its entirety, Texas Man and Julianna Calm Down continued to serve bad bitch, cowgirl energy, whilst showing-off Natalie’s incredible vocal range. A standout element giving continuity to the show was the ethereal feeling violin accompaniment, played beautifully by Martie throughout. Even in the darkest of lyrics, the upbeat and hopeful fiddler gives the tracks a signature ‘Chicks’ sound.
Diving deeper into their impressive and extensive music catalogue, the band gave us all there was to be desired. ‘We are The Chicks, and we are going to attempt to entertain you this evening’ and entertain they did. Filling the first half of the set with hit after hit including The Long Way Around, Ready to Run, and Wide Open Spaces.
A change of pace came as the band moved downstage, breaking the fourth wall in a more intimate, campfire-jam style. A standout for fans was the ladies’ several covers from their early archives including Beyonce’s Daddy Lessons, Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, and Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton’s Rainbowland. The clever meme-style humour of The Chicks was not lost on audiences either, as the screens behind introduced the band members using videos tapes of them as small children, and displaying song lyrics using a bouncing unicorn teleprompter.
The singalong came to a jarring end as seemingly random numbers flashed on stage – which became apparent were signifying numbers of mass-shooting fatalities, which mainly resided across the US. March March, For Her, and Everybody Loves You created a striking, politically driven segment of the show – displaying images of early LGBT and women’s movements, as well as recent riots and protests. There was no one issue which stood out as more significant than another, yet these demonstrations through music signal a need for global change, for peace and equality. Everybody Loves You is another painful, gory truth. A heart-breaking, personal insight into the mind of a survivor of sexual assault, battling with wanting to overcome their oppressor, but struggling for forgiveness; ‘It’s my body and I’m trying to forgive you, I don’t want to… Why does everybody love you?’
‘It’s time to get serious’, exclaimed Natalie, before the band ironically breaks out into a banjo-led, high energy, square-dancing track, White Trash Wedding. After such emotional ups and downs, it was refreshing to end the show with strong feminist-led narratives; Goodbye Earl, being the bookend. With the entire arena on their feet – the superstar trio played out the night with electric guitars and a rockstar personas. Leaving the stage with a standing ovation, there was no hesitation in the room when Natalie shouted, ‘We hope you’ll have us back Melbourne!’
I doubt there would be a soul who would not be back for another round of The Chicks. Though it may be years into the future, the trio have truly stood the test of time, and are guaranteed to pack out venues across Aussie shores for decades to come.