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After five years as a reclusive, semi-retired homebody, Natalie Maines might finally be ready to come out from the dark side of the moon.
While Roger Waters is singing “Mother” every night on the east coast as part of his blockbuster The Wall tour, it was picked up for a couple of unrelated performances on the west coast by a seemingly unlikely interpreter: the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer, who covered the 1979 Pink Floyd classic during pal Ben Harper’s headlining shows at the Hollywood and Santa Barbara Bowls last weekend.
Although bitter British balladry might not seem like a natural for a one-time country star, the tune’s anti-authoritarian streak makes it a natural for a woman who became a celebrated pariah after declaring that she was ashamed to share a home state with then-president George W. Bush. “Mother, should I run for president?” Maines sang, drawing whoops and hollers possibly even bigger than the ones ex-Floyd frontman Waters gets on tour. “Mother, should I trust the government?” Naturally, Harper’s crowds gave a big ixnay to that one.
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The song has traditionally been performed as a duet between a questioning son and overbearing mother – first by Waters and David Gilmour (as the mom!) on the original Wall album and tour, then by Sinead O’Connor and members of the Band at the 1990 staging of the show at the site of the newly demolished Berlin wall. On his current solo tour, Waters performs it as a duet with a 30-year-old video of himself — perhaps confirming a fear that everyone eventually turns into their own mother — along with the usual grotesque Gerald Scarfe imagery of a scary, emasculating uber-mum.
But if a duet between Maines and Harper would have seemed like a natural, Maines sang the entire lead vocal on “Mother” at his west coast shows. In the longer Santa Barbara set, she also performed a solo vocal on Harper’s own “Vein in Vain.”
Harper’s relationship with women might seem as tangled as the semi-fictional lead character’s in Waters’ opus. He used the Hollywood Bowl show to introduce his audience to two essential female singers he’s currently producing: Rickie Lee Jones, who came out to sing “Masterpiece,” and Maines. The show happened to be the same week that Harper’s wife, actress Laura Dern, re-filed divorce papers after failed attempts at a reconciliation.
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Maines’ Bowl appearance was of particular note because she’s been a near-recluse since the Dixie Chicks swept the top three Grammys at that awards show five and a half years ago. Public performances by Maines have been as rare as jackalope sightings over the last half-decade, as she devoted herself to being a mother (albeit one presumably less frightfully domineering than the one in the Pink Floyd song). Since the Chicks’ phoenix-style awards triumph, she’s released only two little-heard new recordings — a solo cover of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” (created for the series finale of Big Love) and a quickie Chicks reunion on a Steve Martin bluegrass track.
But fans may not have to play a game of “where’s Natalie?” forever.
At the ASCAP Pop Awards in May, Maines sang a galvanizing version of “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be” in tribute to honoree Carly Simon, which ASCAP subsequently released to YouTube. And it was as a result of that coming-out moment that the semi-retired superstar “got bit again.
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“I’m making a record, I think,” Maines told Howard Stern’s news broadcast in June. “Ben has a studio and he’s just sort of facilitated this for me in a natural progression. I didn’t go in knowing what I was gonna do or that I was gonna make an album. I was just gonna go in and make some music, and it’s been fun.” In late June, responding to a fan’s tweeted question about whether she’d ever make a solo album, she said she was “eight songs deep making one right now. Hopefully a spring release.”
The Chicks, meanwhile, remain dormant, at least as far as the recording studio goes. But they did reunite June 23 for a one-time benefit for the China Care Foundation at a Greenwich, Connecticut country club, co-headlining with Willie Nelson at an invitation-only gig that reportedly cost thousands of dollars a ticket. “No DC album planned,” Maines tweeted after the show. On the Stern broadcast, she added, “We’re still great friends and still very much a band and together, just not creating anything new at the moment.” The other two Chicks, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, have been working on a second album from their project Court Yard Hounds, although that looks to be delayed by the projected arrival of Robison’s fourth child in September, fathered by Hounds guitarist Martin Strayer.
Maines might have been invisible to most music fans during her layoff, during which she’s spent considerable time with her husband, actor Adrian Pasdar, and their 8- and 11-year-old children. But she’s been highly accessible to followers of her Twitter account. In just the last few days, she’s shared her opinions on everything from One Direction’s performance on an SNL rerun (“They don’t even dance!… #boring”) to Scientology (“If Sea Org’s were allowed to look at Twitter they would know that I’m willing to pay them double to work for me. $10 a week”). She made news earlier this year for tweeting that country star Jason Aldean was egregiously “pitchy” at the Grammys — while professing to not even know Aldean’s name, since she doesn’t follow her former genre anymore.
A July 7 tweet made it clear that time off hasn’t made Maines any more ready to make nice: “The fact that I manage to keep the raging bitch that lies just beneath my surface curtailed 97% of the time deserves to be commended.”
Mother, should she run for queen bee…?
Watch Maines performing “Mother” below:
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