There was Jenny Lewis, decked out in the loudest of cowfolk regalia at the Santa Barbara Bowl on July 29. In case there was any doubt about the twanginess of the night’s proceedings, the indie-country queen rocked a bright red Nudie suit, complete with matching steel toes and a shag haircut. Yes, there was a steel slide guitar moment on “Do Si Do.” Of course, there was a bit of Bonnie Raitt flair on “She’s Not Me” — in which the richness of Lewis’s lower register melted into the greater heights of her pristine head voice. But the peak of her guitar-toting, hip-swaggering set? “Puppy and a Truck,” a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of yacht-rock subverting all the trappings of Margaritaville romanticism in a way only Jenny Lewis knows how.
Then came The Chicks, rootsy icons who forged their own path after the conservative country establishment canceled them for speaking out against ol’ Dubya in the mid-aughts. What could’ve been an elephant in the room has become core to the group identity of the Chicks, who dropped the “Dixie” from their name in 2020.
That theme carried through the night, as the members cheekily emerged onto a gold-paneled set — which was thoroughly Swiffer-ed during the intermission — to the sounds of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.”
There was “Tights on My Boat,” a scorching kiss-off detailing a real-life episode of infidelity. Melding the musical tics of Jason Mraz and Regina Spektor, it stands as one of Natalie Maines’s most vocally adventurous cuts. And, naturally, the personal made way for the political as an animation of conservative justices lost at sea played during the line, “You’re gonna get what you got coming to ya.”
It’s not like serving justice is anything new in the trio’s discography. The storied “Goodbye Earl” is a Thelma and Louise–style revision of the murder ballad that joyfully dances on the graves of abusive men — and had the whole amphitheater singing along! That sentiment blended seamlessly into the Gaslighter-heavy setlist, as the title track of the 2020 album builds an empowerment anthem out of personal turmoil.
“March March” took this messaging a step further. The slow-simmering protest song directly addressed social issues from gun violence to climate change. The flickering protest footage culminated in a moving tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement — heightened as the fleet of instrumentalists pulled off a mesmerizing breakdown. Maines pounded out the handclap rhythm while Emily Robison wailed on the banjo and Martie Maguire whittled away at her fiddle. There’s no doubt the Chicks march to their own drum.