The Indigo Girls sent palpable thrills through the Santa Barbara Bowl on Wednesday. Informally dressed like they were playing a tiny club gig, the pair sang “Love of Our Lives,” a song that today sounds like it was the working anthem of the same-sex-marriage movement. And maybe in gay and lesbian circles it was, even if it never crossed over into the larger world the same way Joan Baez did. When they sang “I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed” on “Power of Two,” in gorgeous voice with intricate timing, they sounded like they had been leading a revolution all their lives.
The duo seemed tired to me on CD in the late 1990s, but in the live context of July 2014, songs like “Everything in Its Own Time” and “Wish I Could Be There” sounded better than the hits. All were lucid and made joyfully rich with the artifice of their sneaky harmonies. In other words, The Indigo Girls’ minor songs were a major revelation.
Sadly, the legend on stage offered nothing like surprises. It wasn’t like Joan Baez had no resonance for us, but her selection was haphazard, and the high notes that were once her forte became elusive strangers. She still induces goose bumps singing Phil Ochs’ “There But for Fortune” and her own “Diamonds and Rust.” But songs that used to be signatures like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” created mostly mild regrets. What remained true, however, was the Baez phrasing and passion of political commitment. “Gracias a la Vida” transported us to an instant sense of solidarity, bridging a continent. The rest of the night seemed like a faint memory of celestial praise.