Indigo Girls at the Birchmere (Alexandria, Va. – Apr. 22, 2014)
You’d think it was still 1992 last week at the Birchmere, when all the Indigo Girls fans in the sold-out room sang along loudly with “Galileo” and “Chicken Man,” and when they dropped down to a whisper to murmur along with Emily Saliers’ poignant “Ghost,” an ode to a long-lost love. You could hardly have been blamed for checking the calendar on your iPhone to make sure the venue hadn’t magically been transported back to the 80s, even, for the way all comers stood and sang along, note for note, on the Girls’ traditional show-closer, “Closer to Fine,” an anthem to making peace with where you are in life, no matter your age or circumstances.
Saliers will be 51 in July; her musical partner Amy Ray turned 50 last month. The elementary-school pals who have comprised the Girls since 1985 are both mothers of toddlers now, so when Saliers momentarily forgot a lyrical couplet in “Hammer and a Nail,” which kicked off the show, a ripple of sympathetic laughter filled the room. All the women in the room – and the smattering of men there, too – the fans who had discovered the Indigo Girls in college or high school, grad school or middle school, who had gravitated toward their complex lyrics spiked with literary references and intricate harmonies, toward their styles of guitar-picking, sometimes percussive, sometimes ethereal and airy – indeed, all of them were older, too, and just as inclined to forget from time to time.
“Most of the requests we get are for old stuff,” said Ray early on in the show, acknowledging the shouts for many of the Girls’ signature originals and some of their best covers (Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” was one of those, which Ray demurred from playing because, she noted, “we really need a whole band for that”).
“Just sing along,” she added. “It will make it more interesting for you.”
Please! You’d be hard-pressed find in this room a listener who found the show less than captivating. Tune after tune, Saliers and Ray rolled out folk-rock ear candy of the very best sort, including “Get Out the Map” from 1997’s Shaming of the Sun; “Watershed” from 1994’s Indians, Nomads, Saints; “The Wood Song” from 1994’s Swamp Ophelia. Among the less familiar tunes: “Share the Moon,” from 2011’s Beauty Queen Sister, which Ray wrote for “my lovely lady,” partner Carrie Schrader. The two are parents to toddler Ozilline, named for Ray’s grandmother, memorialized in Ray’s song of the same name, from Come On Now Social (1999). A stripped-down version of that tune was yet another highlight of the evening.
Saliers, a mother with wife Tristin Chapman to daughter Cleo, stepped out of the spotlight briefly to allow Ray to perform one tune from her weeks-old country record, Goodnight Tender. The bittersweet tune, “Duane Allman,” is “about that hole you feel when you lose someone,” she explained, before strapping on her mandolin and accompanying herself in as muscular a playing style as she has always exhibited on the guitar.
Saliers returned to join Ray for “Galileo,” from 1992’s Rites of Passage, then “Closer to Fine.” Their voices still meld flawlessly – Ray’s chocolate-y resonance seemingly untouched by time, Saliers’ warm soprano still finding the high notes throughout the evening.
The Indigo Girls accepted the love from this appreciative audience with humility and with grace. “Thanks for helping us out all these years,” Saliers said, bidding the audience good night. “We don’t ever take you for granted.”