Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Indigo Girls: Zen, balance, energy — and no contract.

The Indigo Girls
Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor

April 23, 2009

Balance, turns out, is the key to not only a good life but also a great concert experience. Fortunately, The Indigo Girls — Amy Ray and Emily Saliers — understand and appreciate the concept.

Musicians, like anyone, need to grow, and in order for anyone to grow, we must change. Sadly, this often disappoints fans (remember: fan is short for fanatic) who sometimes view change as a form of "selling out." This can be quite the conundrum: do artists stick with what helped them grow a fan base, risking boredom, stagnation and the dreaded metaphoric death by redundancy and repetitiveness? Or do they they go out on a limb, mix it up a bit, and risk losing their core fan base? After Tuesday's concert, we suggest those bands caught in the dilemma follow the Indigo route: balance.

The show began with two new songs off the Girls' latest album, the independently produced Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. Clearly, this was what the Girls primarily came to do: give these new songs a whirl. And they totally rocked! Ray and Saliers, with the addition of Julie Wolf on keyboards and accordian (not a typo), harmonized perfectly and mesmerized the Michigan Theater crowd.

But then they did the smart thing, too; the Zen thing. They played some of their older songs, the songs that brought fans out, the songs that we wanted to hear. From "Power of Two" to "Closer to Fine," along with several other classics, the Girls served up a balanced playlist of old and new — at one point burying one of the new bluegrass-tinged songs right in the middle of a classic as a sort of extended jam. Brilliant. And the smartest move of the night: they actually thanked the crowd for listening, explained that they enjoyed sharing the new stuff but totally appreciated the crowd's eagerness to hear the older songs, and even identified themselves as fans when Saliers explained that she was getting ready to see Heart in concert, and the Ann Arbor crowd helped her to imagine all the songs she'd be yelling out for the band to play.

It's a shame that the music business has turned its back on these supremely talented artists and songwriters and cut them loose from a major-label contract, and the low-budget production was definitely noticeable in the lack of a drummer or bassist. (With the classic songs, especially, bass lines are as memorable as the vocal harmonies.) The show ran a bit short at 1:45 and provided only one encore ("Galileo") that had been mentioned in mid-concert, and as is customary now, the sound mix was turned up to the point of distorting the highs. Still, overall, the energy brought by both fans and performers stayed constant for the time they had together and left everyone feeling satisfied.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful review! We are going to see the Girls in Houston next month and are happy to know we will hear a nice mix of old & new there. And your right about the no contract situation that is just unforgiveable.