On Friday, the Indigo Girls headlined the first major show of 2014 at Tacoma’s Pantages Theater; and nearly three decades into their partnership, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers reminded fans why they are among the most beloved and influential folk-rock acts of their generation.
The duo was backed by a three-piece supporting band that included standout fiddle player Lyris Hung, whose frenzied solos especially galvanized “Go” later in the set. Ray and Saliers also got a little help from local friend and occasional collaborator Brandi Carlile, a Maple Valley resident who’s a pretty big deal in her own right.
Carlile – best known for “The Story,” “Turpentine” and other cult hits – made a low-key entrance, singing backup on the night's second selection, “Ozalline,” a song she’s done many times with the Indigo Girls. She wasn’t formally introduced until much later, but was immediately recognizable by anyone who'd seen her headline the Woodland Park Zoo or one of her sold-out sets at Benaroya Hall with Seattle Symphony.
The Indigo Girls' early set included “Love of Our Lives,” “Fill It Up Again” and “Get Out the Map,” among other fan favorites; but it was marred by a persistent, grating buzz that emanated from the Pantages sound system. "This song should drown it out. You won't even notice it," Saliers joked before the duo launched into acoustic rocker, “Land of Canaan.”
Fortunately, a roadie showed up to fix the problem in time for the duo's death penalty protest song, “Faye Tucker,” which was among the most affecting numbers of the night. Ray’s voice trembled with conviction as she snarled lyrics lamenting the 1998 execution of Texas inmate Karla Faye Tucker:
Well mercy could prove us
But nothing would move us
To rise above just being cruel
"Yikes!” she joked afterward. “It doesn't matter how dark the song is, it's still fun to play."
Seattle Seahawks jerseys were plentiful on the eve of the ‘Hawks big playoff matchup with the New Orleans Saints; and Saliers couldn’t pass on the opportunity to suck up to local football fans. She took her cue as Sully, the band's lovable, schlubby guitar tech, passed her the mandolin she'd play on “Lay Your Head Down.”
"Sully thought I was going to drop the mandolin. That made me think of a football analogy," Saliers said, coyly. "We're big Seahawks fans,” she added, drawing easy applause. “You have got an incredible team."
In keeping with the football theme, the duo called a couple of “audibles” toward the end the show, adding the “Go” and “Cold Beer and Remote Control” on the fly. The latter – a fan favorite the Girls recorded with Sheryl Crowe for their “Come On Now Social” album – had been called out by a fan early on. “Thanks for the request,” Saliers acknowledged after they were done.
Carlile and opening act Lucy Wainwright Roche were featured prominently toward the end of the set. Carlile chipped in during the poignant “Kid Fears,” and both were onstage for a big sing-along rendition of “Closer to Fine.” But it was Sully who briefly stole the spotlight, fans cheering her on as she leant backing vocals on Charlie Daniels Band classic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Roche was returning to the Pantages after warming up for her brother, Rufus Wainwright, in October. She and sidekick/producer Jordan Brooke Hamlin played songs from their new album “There’s a Last Time for Everything.” They also notably threw in a melancholy, acoustic version of Swedish pop star Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend.”
Indigo Girls set list:
Love of Our Lives, Ozilline (with Brandi Carlile), Fill It Up Again, Share the Moon, The Wood Song, Land of Canaan, Get Out the Map, Three Country Highway, Able to Sing, Faye Tucker, She's Saving Me, Dairy Queen, Lay My Head Down, Go, Virginia Woolf, Reunion, Cold Beer and Remote Control, Kid Fears (with Brandi Carlile), Closer to Fine (with Carlile and Lucy Wainwright Roche), War Rugs, Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band), Galileo (with Carlile)