About two years ago, the Chicks — the trio of Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, and Emily Strayer — released “Gaslighter,” a feisty blend of country storytelling, pop songcraft, and unbothered spirit. The trio’s first full-length in 14 years, it was a triumph, combining poison-pen breakup songs like the sing-along-ready title track with no-nonsense political statements (“March March”), tender-yet-soaring offerings (“For Her”), and simmering slices of wisdom (“Julianna Calm Down”).
“Gaslighter” came out in the early months of the pandemic, and it was a chance for listeners to give their full focus to the talents of the Chicks, whose blend of bluegrass picking and anthemic choruses had made them one of country music’s biggest acts in the ‘90s and ‘00s (when they were known as the Dixie Chicks). In 2003, though, they began a stalemate with the Nashville establishment over their stance on the US military involvement in Iraq; instead of buckling, though, their defiant 2006 album “Taking the Long Way”showed that they weren’t going to back down from their critics, with the steely-eyed protest song “Not Ready to Make Nice” turning into an anthem for people all over the world.
Things have changed in the years since “Taking the Long Way” and “Not Ready to Make Nice” had burned up the country music establishment, with women all over pop realizing how powerful art would stand the test of time, even if the people making it rankled higher-ups in certain corners.
“Gaslighter” is an ideal fusion of the Chicks’ skilled songcraft and the maximalist production style of Jack Antonoff, whose meticulous attention to detail has turned records by the likes of Lorde, Clairo, Taylor Swift, and his own band Bleachers into completely immersive worlds.
“Jack creates this beast of music,” laughs Maines during a recent interview with the trio ahead of their Tuesday date at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield. That beast-making required taking an in-depth look at each “Gaslighter” track, so they could be re-created on the road.
“We had him send separate tracks of all the different guitars so that we could assign them to the different guitar players,” notes Maines. “You can hear how much he did that affects the overall sound — even when we went home [from the studio]. He’s just a genius.”
To bolster the band’s sound, the Chicks have brought on two musicians — both close to home. Maines’s son Slade is one of them. “He’s the utility player,” says Strayer. “He can play everything. He can play pop sounds on these synths, and then he’ll go over and play a guitar part. It’s really been great to have someone who can tackle all those strange, strange noises.” Maguire’s daughter (and Strayer’s niece) Eva will also assist on string parts.
The Chicks will feature tracks from “Gaslighter” during their tour, but they also have a catalog that dates back decades. “When you have more songs, you feel like you can just cherry-pick everything you want to do, but then you feel like you’re leaving something out,” explains Strayer. “We started with one set list, and it has morphed and changed over the rehearsals. So we’re going to play this dice game, where we roll the dice, and there’s six songs [on it] — some of the older stuff, even songs like ‘There’s Your Trouble,’ which we have not played for a long time. I was imagining just doing it backstage, [but Natalie asked], ‘Well, why don’t we just do it onstage, and bring the [fans into it]?’ ”
One song that will definitely be on the set list at Xfinity Center is “March March,” the sardonic-yet-outraged protest song that the Chicks wrote after attending the 2018 March for Our Lives antigun violence demonstration.
“In the [song’s original] video we touched on so many different topics, and so many more topics that we’re emotional about have come to the forefront,” says Maguire. “We just keep adding topics and visuals, and it’s hard to turn around and look at what’s going to be on the screens [behind the stage] because it’s very heart-wrenching, which is what we’re trying to do with that song, just to make people think and feel what’s going on in our world.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some tears in the audience. It’s just such intense times right now, you know? Most of the set is super fun, and a lot of jamming and picking. But that’s one moment that’s pretty heavy.”
With Patty Griffin. At Xfinity Center, Mansfield. July 5, 7:30 p.m. Tickets from $33.50. 800-745-3000, livenation.com
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.