The Chicks on their summer tour and finally performing Gaslighter live
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It's never a dull moment when the Chicks hit the road. The country trio love to take their music to stages across America, and they're not afraid to speak their minds while doing it — they famously drew intense ire after criticizing President George W. Bush while touring in 2003. But if it's been well over a decade since they've performed new tunes live, that's about to change this summer.
The group originally planned to tour their most recent album, Gaslighter, on the heels of its release in 2020. Then the pandemic struck, pushing the record back by several months and ultimately forcing them to cancel concert plans entirely. Even now that the tour is about to kick off June 14, it took a minute to get off the ground. They intended to announce it in November, but then held off because of the uncertainty of the Omicron variant. But, at last, they're ready, ready, ready, ready, ready to run.
Putting out Gaslighter during lockdown meant it existed in a bit of a vacuum, so members Emily Strayer, Martie Maguire, and Natalie Maines can't wait to see fans' reactions to the material in real time. "Because we get different barometers," Strayer explains. "Natalie was saying the other day that she saw that 'For Her' and 'Julianna Calm Down' were getting better metrics with certain platforms. On Apple Music, which I listen to, it was more 'Gaslighter' and 'Texas Man.' We'll now know what the favorites are, and we're going to try and get as many of the songs from the new album in rotation as possible."
"We've been touring the same music for a long time," adds lead singer Maines. "We try to freshen it up with different covers and surprises, but it's going to be more entertaining for us to have a lot of new stuff — and hear the fans sing along. Most of our audience likes to sing every word."
And, as Maguire is quick to point out, "They've had more time to live with this album, so they should know the words."
Of course, they'll treat diehards to some of the classics, including "Goodbye Earl," "Wide Open Spaces," "Cowboy Take Me Away," and "Sin Wagon." But the group will also engage in a little musical roulette. Maines says they've created oversized dice to determine what makes the cut on a given night. "At one point in the show, we'll roll the dice, and there's six songs allotted to each number, so we'll see what surprise song we're going to play that night."
Says Maguire, "We might have different opinions on which songs we should bring back or what fans would like, and so we were like, 'Let's leave it up to chance.' We all got to vote on what made the song list."
One popular track on the die is "There's Your Trouble," off their 1998 album and major-label debut, Wide Open Spaces. Maines has never allowed the Chicks to play it on tour, but because it's one of the six, it's bound to pop up. They're also reimagining other beloved tracks, employing some of the new sounds and production choices that set Gaslighter apart from previous LPs.
"With 'Cowboy' and 'Landslide' and some of the other songs, we are doing them different than [we did on] the album," Maines says. "It's still the same melody and stuff, but we wanted to change it up a bit from how we always do it."
Strayer also promises more vibrant visuals, a contrast to the black-and-white motifs of their 2016-2017 DCX MMXVI/MMXVII World Tour. Plus, they've invited two opening acts: Patty Griffin and Jenny Lewis, who'll alternate dates based on location. Strayer saw Lewis open on Harry Styles' Love on Tour and was instantly mesmerized; adding her to the mix felt like a no-brainer. Meanwhile, Maines calls the band "super-mega Patty Griffin fans," adding that this will be a reunion of sorts since she opened for their first headlining tour back in 2000. "We always cover her songs," Maines says. "I like to think she writes them just for us because we steal enough of them."
But there is one thing the Chicks won't be doing: returning to popular Los Angeles summer venue the Hollywood Bowl; instead, they'll play the Greek Theatre, a venue new to them. The topic comes up because of the lyrics in one Gaslighter track, "Sleep at Night," in which Maines recounts her husband's infidelity, singing, "Remember you brought her to our show at the Hollywood Bowl / She said, 'I love you, I'm such a fan.'"
Maines laughs when asked if the line has anything to do with their decision to avoid the spot. "They just have a quiet DB [decibel] level because of the neighborhood," she explains. "We like to crank it up."
Strayer says they were also purposely looking to shake things up. "That's one thing we consciously did differently this time around — we added some places we've never played before. We wanted some different looks, so Red Rocks [Park & Amphitheatre in Colorado] is new to us. We're doing festivals this time. It keeps it fresh and fun for us."
Another big change? Special guest member Slade, Maines' son, will play acoustic and electric guitar and synthesizer at the shows. The Chicks songwriting is highly personal, more than ever on Gaslighter, which mines their divorces and relationships with their families. One track, "Young Man," specifically addresses their children and Maines' son. Was it hard for Slade to perform?
"It wasn't as strange as I thought it was going to be because he's so comfortable with it," Maines says. "But when we were at rehearsal last week and we were doing 'Young Man,' I was getting choked up."
Maines' bandmates get visibly emotional at her admission. "I thought you were!" says Maguire.
Slade isn't the only family member who'll join the tour. Maguire's daughter, who is accompanying them on their travels, will show up to play the violin on a few songs, and Maines hopes her father, songwriter and producer Lloyd Maines — who plays pedal steel guitar, mandolin, and banjo — will make a cameo at some stops.
While they have no plans to enlist Jack Antonoff, who produced Gaslighter (and seemingly every other record of the past five years), for the proceedings, they're not ruling anything out. "Things present themselves sometimes when you're out there and you run into other artists," teases Strayer.
Not that they need the bells and whistles. The main event will be more than enough: a chance for fans to rediscover — and fall back in love with — an album that kept them alight through some very difficult years.
The Chicks' summer tour runs June 14-Aug. 13.
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