Emily Saliers called it “The Grand Ole Opry of Colorado” early in the Indigo Girls’ set Saturday night at Chautauqua Auditorium. However, she and counterpart Amy Ray turned the venue into a hootenanny, as the adoring crowd sang along on almost every number.
Backed by Julie Wolf on keys, the duo opened with “Joking.” Even pushing 50, the rich harmonies are strong as ever. Ray and Saliers spent much of the evening working through a revolving cast of guitars, mandolins and banjos, seeming to bring out guitar tech Lisa “Sulli’ Sullivan, (“Still single, very picky,” laughed Saliers) on almost every song to trot out a different guitar.
The show seemed to be structured in blocks — mixing in material from some of the recent albums with older favorites. It was usually the older material that got the most pronounced reaction. On “Power of Two,” the band prompted the audience to sing a verse, a trick they used on several other songs. On “Kid Fears,” the crowd didn’t even need prompting, taking over the harmony part sung by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe on the album.
Given that they are known for their voices, one thing that stands out when you see Indigo Girls live is their skill as instrumentalists. Saliers took an extended guitar solo on a long, jammy version of “Chickenman,” during which she and Ray played around with the tempo of the song to great effect, weaving in an out of dreamlike passages to rising crescendos. Ray used a mandolin on several songs, while her percussive strumming on “Shame on You” soared over Saliers’ folksy picking on the banjo.
As they launched into “Closer to Fine” with opening act Mount Moriah providing additional harmonies, many in the audience spontaneously got out of their seats and moved to the space in front of the stage to dance and sing along, staying there for the rest of the show.
Perhaps the most interesting performance of the night was the a cappella rendition of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Hearing the way the two listened to each other, Ray singing the main melody line and Saliers adding the harmonies above, sometimes changing pitch in mid-note to add depth and texture, was incredible.
Indigo Girls will be releasing a new CD later in the year, titled “Beauty Queen Sister.” On the encore, they performed one song from the disk, “Share the Moon,” that could become an audience favorite. They sent their fans home with one more opportunity to sing along on old favorite “Gallileo.”
Lara Wenzel is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.