Park City • The emcee of the evening, Terri Orr, spent a few moments speaking to the crowd minutes before the headliner, Natalie Maines, took the Deer Valley Snow Park Amphitheater stage Tuesday night.
After telling the audience that Park City is “in Utah, but not of Utah,” Orr jokingly added that Park City has been known for its tendency for not being ready to make nice — a reference to Maines’ signature song with the Dixie Chicks, “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
An older gentleman next to me murmured to his wife, “What does that mean?”
The remark signified that 10 years is a long time, with that man apparently forgetting that it was a decade ago when Maines told a British audience that she was ashamed the president at the time was from her home state of Texas. She became a pariah in most of the country world, with country radio stations across the country banning the Dixie Chicks, who up until then were arguably the biggest country act in the Land of the Free.
Tuesday night, Maines showed that in her new incarnation she needn’t worry about whether country radio stations will play her new material, because she is no longer a country singer. With no banjo or mandolin played by the five members of her band, she laid claim to being a rock singer, and it was a mesmerizing evening that captivated the crowd for all 15 songs.
In what was billed as the first night of her first solo tour, Maines performed all 10 songs from her recently released debut solo album “Mother,” as well as other songs that helped to define who she has been and who she is now, after seven years of being largely out of the limelight — all self-imposed.
Superficially, the 38-year-old singer looked markedly different from the old inage we have of her. Wearing a short skirt and stillettos, Maines’ hair was cut what men in the military call “high and tight,” with a slicked pompadour atop her forehead.
Backed by two members of Ben Harper’s Relentless7 band (Jason Mozersky on lead guitar and Jesse Ingalls on bass) along with a drummer, lap steel player and keyboard player, Maines offered fiery renditions of her Harper-produced songs on “Mother,” which contains only three songs co-written by Maines, with the rest covers. With Maines alternating between acoustic and electric guitar — and sans shoes for a few songs — spirited covers of Eddie Vedder’s “Without You,” “Patty Griffin’s “Silver Bell,” and Jeff Buckey’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” all gained new life and surpassed the often-tepid renditions on her album.
A largely unadorned stage signified that this was a night for Maines to sing and show off her intepretive skills, and she was compelling and emotive throughout, with her distinctive twang tempered in favor of a more elastic soprano. Because of that, renditions of “Not Ready to Make Nice” and “Come Cryin’ To Me” (credited to Maines and her two Dixie Chicks bandmates, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison) were bluesier and more impassioned than those of the Chicks’ records.
Not as successful was her rote interpretation of the Jayhawks’ “I’d Run Away,” which had a harder edge when Maines delivered it, rather than the breezier tone the song demanded. And while Harper’s “Vein in Vain” illustrated the dynamic power of the band, it slowed her momentum and revealed why it is one of the least remarkable song on her debut.
Much better was the warm, set-opening cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” which offered a fresh perspective of the song made famous by Roger Waters. It was hard not to think of her past when she sang lines such as “Mother, should I run for President?” and “Mother, should I trust the government?” In addition, being a mother herself, Maines laid bare her emotions in the powerful song, setting the stage for a memorable night.
Other highlights included her galvanizing mission statement “Take It On Faith” as well as Semisonic’s Dan Wilson’s “Free Life,” which she dedicated to “three friends of mine,” the West Memphis Three. “The song always reminds me of them,” she said. She, along with Vedder, campaigned for the eventual release of the three men from prison because she and others believed they were innocent of having killed three young boys in Arkansas, despite being convicted.
Maines, who disappointingly only played for little over an hour, beefed up the set with energetic takes on the Chicks’ “Easy Silence” and “Lubbuck Or Leave It,” Griffin’s “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida” (“I second that,” Maines added as she introduced the song), and Gossip’s “Dimestore Diamond.” Maines ended the night with the normally wine-satiated and reserved crowd on its feet.
At one point in the show, Maines introduced a Dixie Chicks song by saying it was “minus two Chicks.” It is still up in the air whether the Dixie Chicks will ever mount another large-scale tour, but if they don’t, the world is big enough for the Courtyard Hounds (Maguire and Robison’s current side project) as well as Maines. On second thought, they are in different worlds.
When • Tuesday, July 30
Where • Deer Valley, Park City
Bottom Line • First stop on first solo tour bodes well for rest of tour.