When Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls sing together, their voice bring back memories of the ‘90s.
When Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls sing together, their voice bring back memories of the ‘90s: college dorm rooms that smelled like patchouli, rainy days listening to R.E.M., cold Papa John’s pizza with bottles of Natural Ice. That sound drips with memories, whether it be stripping down naked in the parking lot at the Lilith Fair or going to protest with Winona LaDuke against nuclear waste on Native American land. There is a haunting precision between Ray’s deeper tones and Saliers’ more angelic highs. At its best, the sympathy between them is hair-raising.
The duo shared the stage with the Oregon Symphony last week, playing a 17-song set that ranged from classic Indigo Girls (“Galileo”) to newer, more obscure work (“Damo”). The orchestra, conducted by Norman Huynh, provided more subtle layers rather than overpower Ray and Saliers. This was still very much an Indigo Girls show. They were just surrounded by a phalanx of other musicians.
I honestly haven’t thought much about the Indigo Girls recently. I bought my wife their self-titled album on vinyl, but Ray and Saliers are compartmentalized, locked away in my memory. When the pair began the show with “Love of Our Lives,” from their 2009 album Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, sensations from the past washed over me, feelings without the edges whittled away by fatigue, irony and middle age.
There is something perfect when the Indigo Girls meld. Alone, Saliers work is a little too ethereal while Ray’s songs can be dour. Together, however, there is an excellence where they meet. Songs such as “Closer to Fine,” “Ghost” and “Galileo” were so immensely popular for a reason and each were met thunderous applause that brought some members of the timid audience to their feet.
Although Ray and Saliers didn’t say much between songs, their music has always been a call to stand up to bigotry, chauvinism and ignorance. During the intermission, the mostly female crowd commandeered the men’s room, coming in and out of the stalls while we stood at the urinals. It was liberating and natural and totally within the spirit of the concert.
The highlight of the show came near the end of the first set where Ray and Saliers played “Kid Fears” from their 1989 self-titled album. Darkly soaring, it was the perfect showcase for their harmonies. As the song began, my wife asked who would sing Michael Stipe’s guest vocal. Ray pointed to the crowd and a sea of voices filled in for the R.E.M. That same solidarity returned at the show’s end during “Closer to Fine.” Most people in the orchestra rose to their feet and sang along, closing out the evening on a hopeful, if mostly nostalgic, note.