Early in their set Saturday night at the Forum, the Dixie Chicks lit into a song that served as both mandate and salve: "Some Days You Gotta Dance."
Indeed, given the tenor of what was happening in the wider world outside the arena, shimmying to the jubilant sounds of a group that hadn't mounted a U.S. headlining tour in a decade seemed the proper response. The audience enthusiastically heeded the call, welcoming the Grammy-winning country pop trio back with open arms, lifted voices and dancing shoes at the ready for more than two hours of grade-A escapism.
Luckily, the Chicks, singer-guitarist Natalie Maines and multi-instrumentalist sisters Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire — ably assisted by a backing quintet — had plenty of hip-shaking hits — as well as poignant ballads, rip-roaring bluegrass numbers and ace covers — in their jukebox. They pumped them out with a palpable sense of joy and gratitude, looking and sounding radiant, untouched by time, their harmony-rich vocals and precision musicianship intact. (Cameras were on hand to capture the performance for a future DVD release. "Do people have DVDs anymore?" Maines wondered.)
Whether taking a rollicking ride on the "Sin Wagon," gliding through their pastoral version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide"— with help from sassy opener Elle King— or taking Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons" to the barn dance, the women's intertwined voices were shiver-inducing good.
As was the musicianship overall, with each member of the ensemble getting a moment to shine, particularly during a soaring take of Bob Dylan's "Mississippi."
In a night full of peaks, there were several stand-outs. An emotional trio-only reading of "Travelin' Soldier" was amplified by a few audience members holding an American flag aloft during the song. A tribute to Prince in the form of a sublime rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U" found Maines reaching deep for a gutsy belt as the late rock star's purple glyph was emblazoned on the center stage video screen. And the crowd provided a sweet choir backing for the winsome "Cowboy Take Me Away."
While the focus was largely on the music, politics and the real world did rear their unsightly heads a couple of times. During a spirited rendition of "Ready to Run," presidential candidates — from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump to Ben Carson to Bernie Sanders — were depicted on video screens as a goofy parade of clowns, replete with rainbow wigs and red noses, and the song ended in a shower of red, white and blue confetti. An image of Trump, festooned with horns and a mustache, also made an appearance — as did unsettling photos and images of Rihanna, Chris Brown and O.J. Simpson, among others — as part of the backdrop to the revenge fantasy "Goodbye Earl," one of the night's loudest sing-alongs.
Otherwise, Maines, the group's famously forthright spokesperson, mostly cracked self-deprecating remarks and offered gratitude to the audience for returning after the band's long layoff. Prior to the night's stripped-down acoustic set, she jokingly threatened to play songs from her 2013 solo album, but the Chicks stuck to their own material and the aforementioned covers, eschewing tracks from that album and the two Maguire and Strayer released as Court Yard Hounds.
No new music appears to be in the works for the group at the moment, but the crowd was happy to revel in the hits and, as the show wound down, joined voices again to croon along with "Wide Open Spaces," the Chicks' signature number about flying the coop and being brave enough to see where life takes you.
The band followed the still-incendiary rocker "Not Ready to Make Nice" with a cover of Ben Harper's prayerful "Better Way," with a little help from their kids and friends.
The Dixie Chicks brings their DCX MMXVI tour to the Hollywood Bowl on Monday.