LIVE: Indigo Girls @ The Egg, 10/18/2021
ALBANY — Americana folk sensation the Indigo Girls came to The Egg in Albany to perform on October 18th with openers Grace Lougan and Tina Williams. While the famous duo sang songs from much of the 1980s to early 2000s albums, as well as more modern releases, they pushed through a performance marked by vocal inconsistencies by Emily Saliers and powerful moments led by Amy Ray. The night was punctuated with both the loss of the timbre that was created in the past by Sailors’ and Ray’s combined harmonies, but also the emergence of the new strengths and talents as the duo ages into a new era.
Openers Grace Lougan and Tina Williams paired up to perform for the first forty-five minutes and charmed the crowd with personal stories and songs. Both women hail from Buffalo and offered unique glimpses into a common community. Young and wildly talented, Lougan’s guitar playing and sultry voice woke me up after a long day, shaking me with some awe. Williams’ songs were angry ones reflecting on people who had hurt her. “This is another song about an asshole,” she opened for song after song, bringing laughter from the crowd. Lougan’s songs were sweeter. One offered a memorial to those she had lost with simple lyrics and mind blowing guitar technique. While the pair don’t appear to play together but offer more background vocals and support to each other while leading on individual songs, they were a fun way to start the night.
It wasn’t shocking that the Indigo Girls chose to have two strong female musicians open for them. The Indigo Girls are a band that defined the 1990s as a time for women’s music. The duo joined many other strong females of the era, including Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega, who sang with authenticity about overcoming hardships. Uncommonly independent and brazen advocates for the LGBT movement, the Indigo Girls emerged as a force powered by raw lyrics, gorgeous harmonies, and unabashed honesty. Their music was a light for many during an otherwise dark time when same sex marriage was not yet legal; LGBT individuals faced harsh isolation and discrimination in the world. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers were open about their sexual orientation and even sang about their own love stories without any shame.
They are icons for human rights. And for that alone, this writer honors them.
They also produced a unique sound at the time that has yet to be replicated. Ray’s clear and powerful alto would harmonize with Saliers’ sweet and luminous soprano, producing some of the most luminescent harmonies that washed over listeners with promises of hope, peace, and love.
My excitement was building all day as I sang my favorites of their songs to prepare for what I anticipated would be an Egg sing-a-long event. (I apologize to my colleagues who had to hear me sing “Galileo” repeatedly throughout the morning.) I was ready for the music and the message of hope, braced to return to the early 1990s aided by the women’s powerful presence.
Joined by Lyris Hung on the violin, Ray and Saliers came on stage shortly after 9 pm with guitars slung over their shoulders to play, with Amy coyly stating, “Well here’s some folk music.” The first song seemed like a warm up, and even during the second song, Saliers was reaching and not quite hitting her high notes on “Get Out the Map.” Ray was picking up the slack, though, and so was the crowd on the more familiar songs, helping the group as it bumped through its setlist.
Ray was extremely strong, although she admitted to starting “Prince of Darkness” in the wrong key after it was completed. She quickly modified, however, and the song was recognizable due to the lyrics until the music matched. But Saliers’ familiar sweet high pitches didn’t ring with the pure clarity as it did before, so the sound was different. At some moments, it even felt a bit sad.
But Ray’s powerful “Land of Canaan” brought the foot stomping, powerful energy back up. Her lead on “Chicken Man” also helped circle the stage with familiar energy.
Saliers’ voice has changed; there is no denying it. But in their new song “Country Radio,” the fact that it had changed didn’t stand out as much. Instead, what spoke loud and clear was the message of hope to gay youth. As she gently sang “But as far as these songs will take me, Is as far as I’ll go. I’m just a gay kid in a small town/
Who loves country radio” I melted. It was a centering moment, a moment that reminded this writer that even within change, the Indigo Girls were still the women I admired because they spoke through their music for those without voices.
After the encore, Jim and I walked to the car and talked about growing old. We talked about how cars age and sound different, but we still drive them. Dogs age, but are still loyal and loving. Emily’s voice has changed and shifted. But on the new songs, it wasn’t painful. It was only sad when she strained and tried to give listeners what they loved before; on the new songs, where Sailors was allowed to be her authentic older self, she sounded just fine.
Amy was able to shine more too than she had as a younger performer. She stood center stage and truly led the duo, powerfully strumming her stringed instruments and howling her lyrics of anger, truth, and hope.
The Indigo Girls only limped through this performance because they continue to reach back for the songs we loved to hear them sing. Their new album “Look Long” offers a new Indigo Girls, one with realistic vocals for aging women who still can powerfully shake the world with their truths. So it is those songs I will listen to now, honoring where they once were, but also celebrating these older musicians and their ability to continue to grow and inspire.