Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The World’s Whiniest Band

Despite strong sales of their album “Taking the Long Way,” the Dixie Chicks’ summer tour is turning into a real-life version of the mockumentary “Spinal Tap,” in which the self-proclaimed“World’s Loudest Band” limps from one cancelled gig to the next.

The Chicks have cancelled 14 dates mid-tour, including scheduled stops in Kansas City, Houston, St. Louis, Memphis and Knoxville, due to poor ticket sales. But no matter what happens, somehow I don’t think their last gig will be at an Air Force base.

Their management says that they have replaced the cancelled gigs with additional Canadian dates. No doubt the Chicks’ appearance on CBC Sunday Night was in hopes of boosting ticket sales. (And way to tell our Canadian stories, CBC!)

They are also scheduled to appear at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, in support of the documentary “Dixie Chicks: Shut up and Sing.” I wonder if it will include footage of their management’s conference calls about the cancelled gigs? Maybe they’ll save that for the sequel, “Dixie Chicks: Failure to Hatch.” I hope they recreate the pod number from “Spinal Tap,” with all three of them trying to fight their way out of giant eggs. Now that’s a bootleg DVD I’d pay under the table for!

I wasn’t particularly outraged when lead singer Natalie Maines declared onstage a few years ago (at a European tour stop) that she was “ashamed” that President Bush was a fellow Texan. Ho hum, just another American entertainer attempting to ingratiate herself with the sophisticated continentals: yeah, I live in a 5,000 square foot house and drive an SUV, but I hate Bush so I’m really one of you.

But Maines’ initial apology didn’t cut it for a lot of country fans. The band was dropped from many country radio playlists and became a juicy target for conservatives.

Deciding to turn a negative into a positive, the Chicks promptly did a 180-degree turn and tried to portray themselves as victims and martyrs, appearing nude on the cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine with epithets such as “free speech” and “censorship” painted on their bodies(I bet those colours did run). Oh, the humanity. Tell it to the chicks in Iran, sisters.

To accompany the release of their current album, the Chicks concocted an elaborate set of talking points, which included (1) we were never really a country act and (2) we don’t want fans who don’t like our politics (viz. George Costanza: “I am breaking up with you!”)

The album’s first single, “Not Ready to Make Nice” is a tour de force of self-pitying lyrics combined with self-righteousness vocals, including timeless poetry such as “I’ve paid a price, and I’ll keep paying” and “I’m still mad as hell.”

Yes, Natalie Maines is willing to pay the price, but for concert goers the price was just too high. The Chicks may have attracted some new album-buyers among the ranks of Bush haters, but the poor ticket sales suggest that it won’t be enough to make up for the loss of country fans who shell out for concert tickets.

As record company flack Bobbi Flekman (played by Fran Drescher) asserts in “Spinal Tap,” “Money talks, and bull**** walks.”

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