It’s taken The Chicks a long time to get here from their home city of Dallas, but on Tuesday night they played their first-ever Welsh gig as part of Cardiff Castle’s season of summer concerts. After a successful appearance at Glastonbury, the country trio were in town on a world tour, their first since the release of their 2020 comeback album Gaslighter – which had also marked a name change from the Dixie Chicks, on account of the jettisoned term’s connotations with historical slavery.
Even though the weather had turned cloudy, the castle grounds still had a festival feel when fellow Texan and tour support Maren Morris was warmly received by the crowd, some already familiar with her work. Touting a similar feminist country/r’n’b vibe, her song Drunk Girls Don’t Cry could be country cousin to the song about a particular abusive spouse.
Between Morris and The Chicks coming onstage, the screens played videos by fierce female rockers (Edge Of Seventeen, Cherry Bomb, Barracuda) who no doubt influenced the headliners to be outspoken women in music. When the crowd sing along to 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Up?, a festival atmosphere is cemented, and after bursting onto the stage with Sin Wagon and Gaslighter’s title track, lead singer Natalie Maines addresses the crowd. Extolling the virtues of the castle settings, she calls Cardiff a party town – “and we’re from Texas, that’s saying something!” – before getting us all to sing Happy Birthday to her father, Lloyd. Later, Maines will introduce us to her son Slade, telling us the band recorded this next song after she gave birth to him (“now everyone’s picturing me giving birth…”); Landslide, the song in question, was rendered more beautiful with that extra background, though.
The hits were there, along with songs from the new album. Travelling Soldier has always been an old favourite of mine and to hear it live in the castle setting was a melancholy beauty among multiple singalong country bops. Maines’ unpleasant divorce inspired many of Gaslighter’s songs, as well as its title, and with songs like Tights On My Boat we’re on her side, if we weren’t already.
The show is split into three parts, with an acoustic set in the middle seating all the musicians near the front of the stage. A cover of Miley Cyrus & Dolly Parton’s Rainbowland features, tipping a hat to Pride month – if this gig wasn’t already camp, with plenty of us targets of that hat tip in the crowd, this cover topped it off – and the acoustic section ended with a blistering Don’t Let Me Die In Florida.
The Chicks have lost none of their political bite, never less than when playing March March in front of videos of political unrest and protests. Gaslighter may not be any more political than the previous output but it comes at a time when certain ideals are being threatened. It’s not the first time I’ve been hit in the feels this evening, and it’s followed by a new feminist anthem in waiting, For Her, and the joyously silly White Trash Wedding. This is a band who can make you think and entertain you with equal aplomb.
The trio finish with two huge favourites in Not Ready To Make Nice – something they still aren’t doing, unapologetic in their beliefs and unwilling to “shut up and sing” – and Goodbye Earl, a strong singalong finish that proves only country music can make murder in self defence sound so fun. For this Chicks fan, Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer were well worth waiting all those years for.
The Chicks + Maren Morris, Cardiff Castle, Tue 27 June
words CHRIS WILLIAMS photos ANTHONY JAMES
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