Back in the days of Lilith Fair, when every other female seemed to be toting an acoustic and a catalogue of feminist rants, I wrote the Indigo Girls off as one note, aligned myself with Fiona Apple’s piano-driven rage, and never really looked back. This past Tuesday, some 12 years after the fact, I was proven wrong. Cheered on by a nearly full house of fans, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers offered up more than 20 cuts from their two-decade-long career, trading guitars, quips, and lead vocal parts all along the way.
Starting things off (and later helping to close things out) was Bon Iver frontman and recent Muddy Waters alum Justin Vernon, making one of the biggest career leaps in recent S.B. music history. Perched atop a chair with two acoustics (one nylon-stringed, one steel-stringed) at his feet, Vernon delivered his poignant compositions (“Skinny Love,” “For Emma, Forever Ago”) with barely restrained passion, and truly wowed with his take on Patty Griffin’s “Nobody’s Crying.”
Following Vernon’s short-but-sweet set list, Ray and Saliers took to the stage with the hard hitting “Love of Our Lives,” proving their worth in the live setting right out of the gate. Backed by lone keyboard/organ/accordion maestro Julie Wolf, Saliers put a country-tinged twang on “Become You” with building lead vocals that played off Ray’s lively harmonica riffs. Throughout the set, oldies like “Three Hits” and “Get Out the Map” mingled with tracks off the recently release Poseidon and the Bitter Bug (“What Are You Like,” “Driver Education”) in flawless succession, halted only so the duo could switch out guitars in between numbers.
Despite the absence of a full backing band, the three-piece made good on their recordings, mixing in drum machine samples and electric guitar on standouts like “Digging for Your Dream,” and jamming through classics like “Shame on You.” About halfway through, Ray apologized for stacking the middle of the set with sad songs, but few audience members seemed to mind the lull. Night’s end found Vernon returning to the stage, providing backup vocals on “Closer to Fine” and “Kid Fears,” and strangely upholding the argument for Indigo Girls’ ability to hold a crowd, long after the heyday of lady rock came to a close.