Concert review: The Indigo Girls (with the Shadowboxers) keep fans singing along at the Pageant, Saturday, July 21
With the muscle of a young backing band behind them, veteran folk singers the Indigo Girls demonstrated the power of acoustic music last night, proving they still have miles to go before they sleep.
The Indigo Girls are, of course, Amy Ray and Emily Sailers, the folk-rock duo that has been writing and performing thoughtful, well-crafted acoustic music since the late ’80s. A good deal of their staying power is no doubt attributable to their distinct, yet complementary, personalities; they are like yin and yang. Sailer’s voice inhabits a higher register; she is sweetness and light, whereas Amy is the gritty, angrier side, bringing a rock and punk influence to their songs. Sailers takes the guitar leads, while Ray handles more of the rhythm, at times even relying on a low-slung mandolin for a driving strum.
Indigo Girls returned to the Pageant last night for the first time since 2010, this time with a full backing band, the Shadowboxers. The Shadowboxers are a five-piece band from Atlanta, serving as both backing band and opening act. (The band’s first album, “Red Room,” recorded in Shreveport, La., will be available in October.) After a short set from the Shadowboxers, Ray and Sailers took the stage, opening with “Least Complicated” from 1994′s “Swamp Ophelia.” From that point on they had the audience singing along for the entire show.
The set ran through many of their best-known songs, and drew heavily from their ’90s catalog. The bulk of the songs came from the records “Rites of Passage,” Swamp Ophelia,” and “Shaming of the Sun” but still included some of their newer songs, and material from their current record, “Beauty Queen Sister.”
They both began the show on Martin acoustics (for those of you with interested in such things one of Ray’s guitars is a 1942 Martin 0-18), but switched instruments frequently throughout the set. Both play electric guitar at times, and “Shame on You” and “Get Out the Map” had Sailers pulling out the electric banjo.
They kept returning to the Martin acoustics, however, especially toward the end of the show when they played “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine.” Only the most cynical of concertgoer could resist the appeal of the “Closer to Fine” sing-along that helped round out the end of the set. They all brought such enthusiasm to the performance, and Sailers had the audience singing along, not only on the chorus, but on entire verses.
And we did pretty well, a testament as to how well the Indigo Girls’ audience knows these songs.
An encore of “Share the Moon” featured the obligatory appearance of that modern folk concert staple, the ukulele. But it was the final song of the evening that was one of the best; a great version of Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” The song had band members trading lead vocals on the verses, and finally shifting into a funky blues-rock vamp on the penultimate verse before shifting back and returning to Ray for the last verse of the song.
The Indigo Girls have always worn their politics on their sleeves. Their songs cover a range of topics and they have long been champions of a variety of social causes. That said, the politics of the evening stayed mainly in the songs, and not in the banter in between. Nevertheless, it was not surprising that Planned Parenthood was gathering signatures in the corner, where a merch table would once have been.
Still, as if to reinforce the fact that Indigo Girls are a force for good in the world, the house lights came up to “Come On Get Happy” by the Partridge Family.