Early in their set at Chautauqua Auditorium Sunday night, Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers compared the venue to a cross between “The Grand Ole Opry and playing in someone’s barn.” She made a similar comparison during last year’s show, but the two performances couldn’t have been more different. This year, they played with a full backing band, the Shadowboxers, who also opened the show.
While the audience (for the most part) ate up every note and appreciated the cornucopia of instruments Saliers and compatriot Amy Ray played, the setlist left fans stuck in the mid-’90s, down to the woman screaming for “Ghost.” Saliers and Ray have released a slew of albums in the last five years that, while not getting the amount of radio play as some of their earlier records, have a host of well-crafted songs from which the ladies partly comprised the night.
Opening with “Get Out the Map,” Saliers and Ray showed their harmonies are as rich and strong as ever. Ray switched to an electric for a raring take on “Shame on You,” complete with feedback at the end of the bridge.
Much of the material was from last year’s “Beauty Queen Sister,” including the haunting “War Rugs,” and the almost jazzy “We Get to Feel it All.” On “Least Complicated,” Shadowboxers guitarist Scott Schwartz played the ending whistle part as an electric guitar solo to great effect, and Schwartz also stepped up later in the set with a fierce solo on “Gone.”
Ray, who is definitely more the rocker side of the Indigo Girls, was curiously subdued at Chautauqua, though she stepped up late on “Gone” and a passionate “Shed Your Skin.” However, it was surprising that with a backing band at their disposal, some of Ray’s other, heavier songs, such as “Chickenman” and “This Train Revised,” were nowhere to be found.
While having the band — whom Saliers had originally met at a show at her alma mater (Emory) — clearly energized the Girls, it was even more powerful when Ray and Saliers played two mid-set songs without the band, including a beautiful, soaring “The Wood Song.”
Even after 23 years, “Closer to Fine,” which Saliers introduced by saying it was time to sing along, gets the fans out of their seats singing and dancing. Saliers exhorted the crowd to keep singing on “Galileo.” While the crowd clearly appreciated the trip down nostalgia lane, Saliers and Ray didn’t seem to be as interested by the older material, letting the audience sing the time-worn choruses.
However, the closing “Tether” clearly had the two focused and back in synch. The three-song encore closed with a take on Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” with Schwartz and fellow Shadowboxers’ Matt Lipkins and Adam Hoffman each singing a verse, in addition to Ray and Saliers.
Get Out the Map, Shame on You, Fill It Up Again, Moment of Forgiveness, Least Complicated, Heartache for Everyone, We Get to Feel It All, Dairy Queen, The Wood Song, Making Promises, Cold Beer and Remote Control, War Rugs, Love of Our Lives, Go, Gone, Driver Education, Shed Your Skin, Closer to Fine, Galileo, Tether, E: Share the Moon, Trouble, Tangled Up in Blue