Athens in Perspective: Indigo Girls in Atlanta

By Ziona Kocher

“Wow, it feels electric out there!” were the first words we heard from Emily Saliers as she and Amy Ray took the stage on a rainy Saturday evening at Chastain Park. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “if it is so electric, why aren’t we all being electrocuted?” It had been raining on and off all afternoon, and it didn’t seem like it would stop anytime soon. Everyone was at least partially damp from sitting out in the drizzle, but nobody seemed to mind. The Indigo Girls were back home at one of their favorite venues, and we were all expecting an amazing show. The energy that passed through the crowd as they started the first song, “Love of Our Lives,” was impossible to ignore as the Girls swept us away on a wave not unlike the one featured on the cover of their new album.

The set went by quickly as they played through a number of songs from “Poseidon and the Bitter Bug” (released in March of this year) mixed in with some favorites that had the whole crowd singing along. Amy and Emily decided to pull a classic Indigo Girls stunt during “Power Of Two,” which led to a huge response from the audience. After making sure that we were all singing along, they stopped from time to time, urging us to take over and sing the chorus or a particularly strong verse. It’s these times during shows that make me love seeing the Indigo Girls live. Their fans, especially those willing to sit in an uncovered ampitheatre in the rain to see them play, are truly dedicated, and could probably sing the whole show themselves while Amy and Emily just sat back and watched.

Julie Wolf, who has been touring and playing with Amy and Emily for some time now on keyboards, accordion and backing vocals, as well as part of Amy’s solo act, came forward and was featured on the grand piano as the trio performed a breathtaking rendition of “Fugitive.” While Julie is usually impressive while acting as the group’s multi-instrumentalist, this was particularly amazing, and it was clear that Emily and Amy were quite literally giving her some time in the spotlight.

The moment that everything slowed down came about halfway through the show. When I had first arrived at Chastain, I noticed that we were sitting behind a family of four. The mother seemed to be the Indigo Girls fanatic of the group, but they all seemed to be having a pretty good time, and I enjoyed watching them enjoy the show. It wasn’t until Amy and Emily started singing “Get Out The Map” that I truly realized why I felt a connection to this group of people.

“Get Out The Map” is off of the 1997 album “Shaming of the Sun,” and it was around this time that I first started feeling a connection to the Indigo Girls. While touring to promote this album, I went and saw them play at Chastain for the first time with my mother and her friends, and this song was one of my very favorites. Of course, I have very few memories of the show itself, but there are those that are deeply engraved of driving through Georgia on our way to Atlanta as we did, in fact, get out the map.

As Amy and Emily broke into the song that means so much to me, I noticed the daughter, who was probably about 12 years old, lean closer to her mother, and as the song progressed, the girl ended up on her mother’s lap as they both sang along. Memories of times I haven’t thought of in years rushed forward, and I couldn’t help but miss those days with just us in the car, completely consumed with the music.

The set then seemed to speed up again, and because it was a home show, it was only a matter of time before Amy or Emily emphasized some important cause they were participating in around their community. This time they were promoting a new CD that they released with the help of the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia. Entitled “Voices of Hope,” the album is a collection of performances by the choir at the Metro State Women’s Prison in Atlanta. All proceeds from the album benefit the Children’s Center at the prison, and in order to really show us what this program is all about, Renee Snead and a few other members of the choir came out on stage and did one beautiful song which clearly moved the entire audience.

After such a performance, Emily and Amy claimed to no longer feel like playing, but it certainly didn’t seem like it as they tore through an intense version of “Chickenman”, extended to include parts of “Bitter Root.” From there they went on to “Watershed,” which had the whole crowd singing, despite Emily’s change in the lyrics. What was once “every five years or so I look back on my life/And I have a good laugh,” became “every five days or so,” and it seemed to fit just as well, and show the way the Girls have matured during their long career together.

The biggest surprise of the night came when Emily exited the stage and Amy was left alone with her guitar. This in itself isn’t shocking, since the past few shows I had been to Emily and Amy both did a solo song towards the end of the set. What was shocking is that she played “Romeo And Juliet,” by Dire Straits, which the Indigo Girls covered on “Rite of Passage.” Earlier that evening, there had been a discussion about what songs we hoped would be played but never actually expected. This was one of those songs on my list, and as Amy poured her heart into it, I couldn’t help but laugh in amazement.

I was already starting to get hoarse from singing along to every song, but this was the point where it really started to become obvious. That, however, was in no way discouraging me. I was getting suspicious that the show would be ending soon when they played the opening chords of “Kid Fears,” but I was slightly confused by the lack of Matt Nathanson, who had opened for them that evening, to sing the third set of vocals. This was quickly dismissed though, as I assumed that Julie would take the part, though it is the opening act’s traditional place in an Indigo Girls set.

As the song progressed, though, things started to go through my head. After all, it was an Atlanta show…maybe Michael Stipe would show up to sing the part that only seemed right when he sang it. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen (it never does), but we got the next best thing. In the style of Mr. Stipe from the Uptown Lounge video, Matt came onstage right before his part began, and did a rather impressive impression of the man I had been hoping to see. It seemed that he had seen that video a number of times and studied Stipe’s every action, and I must admit it was the best rendition of “Kid Fears” that I have seen.

Matt Nathanson, despite my original fear of him being a “VH1 You Oughta Know – Artist on the Rise,” was actually a pretty good opening act. He seemed like a genuine Indigo Girls fan, and understood an Indigo Girls crowd, urging the audience to sing along on a few simple verses. He gained even more of my respect after jokingly abusing the audience for their affection for 80s covers and songs they’ve heard on the radio, since those were what got the most response.

Matt remained onstage with Amy and Emily as they played “Closer To Fine,” which had the entire audience on their feet, singing and dancing along. This is truly what an Indigo Girls show is about – the audience’s willingness to participate is just as important as the artists’ willingness to play. After this they left us ever so briefly, before coming back for a two song encore. After “Second Time Around,” Emily mentioned how good it was to be home, and Amy reflected on the fact that this was their 29th year playing together. “We’re gonna try to beat the Rolling Stones!” she exclaimed, to a great deal of applause and screaming. And then they threw themselves into “Galileo,” and just as with “Closer To Fine,” the whole audience was singing along with just as much, if not more, intensity as Emily and Amy were.

It was over before I knew it. As I gathered my various notes and checked to make sure my camera hadn’t gotten wet, I started going over things in my head. What were the high points, the lows, what had been the most unexpected. This was the first time I had gone into a show knowing that I would be reflecting on it in a way that others would be exposed to, and I’m not sure how it affected my connection to the music. I wasn’t just absorbing what was going on around me, I was picking it apart. As I walked up the stairs out of Chastain and tried not to slip, I realized that this would be a show that I would remember more than the others. It wasn’t the best show I had been to, but it would probably be the one I looked back on the most fondly. That’s what I kept in mind as we hiked back to the car, more hoarse than we had been when we arrived, as is the tradition for an Indigo Girls show. At least that hadn’t changed.

SETLIST

Love Of Our Lives
Sugar Tongue
The Wood Song
Become You
What Are You Like
Ghost Of The Gang
Power Of Two
Gone Again
Fill It Up Again
Fugitive
Digging For Your Dream
Shame On You
Get Out The Map
Driver Education
I’ll Change
Chickenman/Bitter Root
Watershed
Romeo and Juliet (Amy Ray solo)
Fleet Of Hope
Kid Fears (w/ Matt Nathanson)
Closer To Fine (w/ Matt Nathanson)
Second Time Around
Galileo

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2 comments

  1. Awesome Review Ziona! = )

  2. Very nice. I always prefer the personal reviews. Great job. I'll look forward to more from you.

    C

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