Review: Patty Griffin & The Chicks
Opening set by Grammy Award winner sets stage for raucous show at Jiffy Lube
Note: This review was written for Americana Highways, which assigned me to focus on Patty Griffin’s opening set.
It’s a time-honored tradition among musicians. If you make it big, don’t forget those who inspired and helped you along the way.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Patty Griffin opened for The Chicks on their first headlining tour in 2000. This summer, as The Chicks hit the road for the first time in five years, they again are bringing along the incredibly gifted musician with the distinct, singular voice.
From a logistical standpoint, it’s tough for any opening act to make an impression as 25,000 fans trickle into a large amphitheater on a warm summer evening. But last weekend, Griffin and longtime collaborator David Pulkingham managed to turn Virginia’s Jiffy Lube Live into their own coffeehouse for 45 minutes.
The performance felt spontaneous but meticulously paced, as Griffin brought her tales of loss, hope, and dreams through in a series of songs both sparse and upbeat. Griffin, who is opening for 21 of 27 dates on the tour, and Pulkingham traded licks on guitar and used foot pedals to bring percussion into the series of songs that blended genres effortlessly.
Griffin opened with “Mama’s Worried” from her intimate and mythical 2019 self-titled album, which was recorded after a battle with breast cancer, and followed it with “Flaming Red,” the rocking title track from her 1998 record of the same name. Another 2019 track, “Hourglass,” came next.
The centerpiece of the set — “250,000 Miles” — was one of three tracks Griffin played from 2015’s “Servant of Love,” a critically acclaimed album (as they all are) that is one of her strongest (and that’s saying a lot). “250,000 Miles” tells the story of a parent’s grief about the loss of a child, shattering your heart along the way.
The title song from that album, “Servant of Love,” showed the power in Griffin’s voice, while “Shine A Different Way” was an affirmation that loss can bring with it a power of its own.
Griffin also played two songs from 2004’s “Impossible Dream,” her fourth solo album that won her a Grammy when The Chicks covered “Top of the World.” Surprisingly, neither she nor The Chicks played that song, as Griffin performed “Love Throw a Line” and the powerful “When It Don’t Easy” that features the sadly relevant lines “I don’t know nothing except change will come / Year after year, what we do is undone.”
As more fans filled the performance space — the crowd nearly doubled during Griffin’s too-short set — she ended with the uptempo “No Bad News” from 2007’s “Children Running Through.” And with that, it was time for The Chicks.
Touring behind “Gaslighter,” their first album in 14 years and only their second since they were ditched by the country music establishment after criticizing then-President George W. Bush, The Chicks played a blistering 22-song set that featured 10 cuts from the new record as well as a mix of hits and covers.
Lead singer Natalie Maines and sisters Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire appeared to be having a great time playing for the raucous, majority female crowd. Always on the cutting edge, whether politically or personally, the group used large video screens to illuminate various songs. A bouncing image of the six Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn “Roe v. Wade” drew huge applause.
The Chicks, who dropped “Dixie” from their name in June 2020 to disassociate themselves from states that belonged to the Confederacy, were upbeat and defiant throughout the show. Maines continued to show the astonishing breath control that has made her one of the most distinctive voices in music. Strayer seemed to have a great time as she interacted with the crowd, as did Maguire, who calls performing live “the ultimate payoff.”
The group has mined Griffin’s catalogue for some of their biggest hits — including “Top of the World” and “Truth #2” — and had her open on their first headlining tour in 2000. So it came as no surprise that they brought her out during an acoustic section of the show to play a song with them.
Blending beautifully, The Chicks and Griffin played “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida” from 2013’s “American Kid.” The song, part of a haunting and unflinching cycle that Griffin wrote about the impact of her father’s life, took on new meaning in the wake of our current political state.
By the end, you could easily tell both artists would not have it any other way.
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