It was a great night to be tangled up in indigo.
With a rocking, nearly two-hour set that mixed familiar hits with new songs and closed with a rousing rendition of the Bob Dylan classic “Tangled Up in Blue,” the Indigo Girls — Amy Ray and Emily Saliers — turned in an electrifying performance Saturday night at Los Angeles’s Wiltern Theatre in a stop on their first electric tour. Ably supported by Southern quintet the Shadowboxers as both opening act and backing band, Ray and Saliers put on a thoroughly entertaining, joy-filled show.
While it’s true that the Indigos’ sweet vocal harmonies and earnest, soulful lyrics are hallmarks of their music, it’s also true that these girls can rock, and that was much in evidence Saturday night. Familiar favorites like “Galileo,” “Get Out the Map,” “Power of Two” and, of course, “Closer to Fine” inspired audience sing-alongs and energetic dancing.
Equally impressive were a variety of other songs from their extensive discography, such as “Least Complicated,” which opened their set; the working-class lament “Cold Beer and Remote Control,” which Ray described as “a song about total despondency that you can dance to”; “Second Time Around,” with Saliers doing excellent work on mandolin and harmonica; and “Fly Away,” one of several songs that featured terrific keyboard accompaniment by the Shadowboxers’ Matt Lipkins, whose repertoire includes soaring church-organ sounds, bouncy roller rink–style effects, and haunting bluesy notes.
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“Haunting” also describes the quietly beautiful performance of “Share the Moon,” from the Indigos’ most recent album, Beauty Queen Sister, which began the encore. “Closer to Fine” followed, with full-throated audience participation. Many in the crowd may have thought this number would be the final one, but then the performers swung into “Tangled Up in Blue,” with Ray, Saliers, and several of the Shadowboxers getting a chance to shine vocally. The Indigos, gifted songwriters, also recognize the contributions of those who have preceded them, and their occasional covers provide a fitting homage to icons of folk, rock, and country. It was more than appropriate to close the concert with a nod to a singer-songwriter who set the standard.
The show, however, was also about spotlighting new talent. The Shadowboxers, Atlanta-based like the Indigos, have just recorded their first full-length album and will release it soon, and the five young men in the group are barely out of college. (Yes, they’re all male; they noted that the previous night, someone in the San Diego audience shouted out in disappointment, “They’re boys!”)
But while their gender may have disappointed some in the audience, their music was certainly satisfying. Their roughly hour-long opening set showcased rootsy rock with R&B influences, their great vocal harmonizing sometimes reminiscent of the Fifth Dimension interpreting Laura Nyro. Saliers met Shadowboxers guitarist-singer Scott Schwartz at a Passover seder a few years ago, and she has written songs with the group. In addition to Lipkins and Schwartz, the band consists of guitarist-vocalist Adam Hoffman, drummer Jason Pearlman, and bassist Ben Williams. Their work both supplemented and complemented the Indigos’ lovely voices and expertise on guitar and other instruments. If there’s justice in the music world, the Shadowboxers will soon be famous.
Justice, as ever, is a big focus of the Indigo Girls — not only helping deserving young musicians get recognition, but also justice for the broader society. On this tour, they’re promoting aid to immigrants, and proceeds from concert T-shirt sales will go to groups assisting struggling newcomers to the U.S. This message takes only a few minutes of the show, though; mostly, the Indigos let their songs make the statements, whether they’re about societal problems, relationships, road trips, or your "soul getting it right."
There are ample opportunities to hear the Indigos’ music and message this summer, and also to catch those (we hope) rising stars the Shadowboxers.
For a list of tour dates, click here.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Cowart.