Indigo Girls, Going For Broke
If you’re LGBTQ and have never heard Indigo Girls, or even if you are not, and don’t know them, then climb out from under that rock.
The iconic lesbian folk/rock duo from Atlanta has been a staple in the LGBTQ music scene since they released their first album in 1989. They’re well known for kicking things up at the Lilith fair and getting everyone involved in just experiencing the moment, artists and attendees alike, or their playing a continual string of concerts. You know they always have something going on, and each album is a wonderful collection of emotional stories, full of love, pain, happiness, deep reflections, political commentary, and even “Blood and Fire” (my favorite song of theirs).
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have kept together with a wonderful band, delivering some of the most simplistic and beautiful music for 30 years. With rich guitar, soothing and sometimes rough vocals, they deliver music and lyrics in such a way you’re thinking of ships crossing the ocean, astronomy, or someone holding a razor blade over a lit flame in sheer pain and loneliness. Indigo Girls have done it all and are proving they are still trying to do it all.
When they announced a gig with the Utah Symphony, I had reservations, to be honest. I had been listening to their music, with nothing more than some wonderful moving voices, and two guitars, maybe a whistle here, and a tambourine there. So, to imagine Indigo Girls playing with a full symphony it could have ruined one of the most beautiful things about their music, the two guitar lines, and voices that pull your heartstrings. However, this is Indigo Girls, and they have been at this for thirty-plus years, so clearly these veteran performers know what they are doing.
The concert was held at Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater at Deer Valley Resort, a venue injected into the side of a mountain at a ski resort just outside of Park City Utah. They must love playing these places as I had first seen them in 1991 at a different venue just north of Park City Utah. The fan demographic had expanded exponentially over the years. I saw a couple holding a sign saying “My 86th Indigo Girls Show, My Daughter’s 1st”. There were kids barely old enough to walk, grandparents, rainbow flags everywhere, the token geeky gay couple who just fell in love, and everyone in-between.
The night began like a regular symphony performance, the conductor, first violinist, etc. Then Amy Ray and Emily Saliers took the stage and said “Good evenin y’all thanks for coming out” and opened with “The Wood Song.” Around song 3, Amy pointed out, “It’s so beautiful out here in these mountains, it’s distracting” as if this was the only way to enjoy the music, outdoors, on the side of a mountain. It felt like this was the exact venue to hear these songs played live.
Amy talked for a moment about how the author Virginia Woolf had touched her and inspired the song of the same name. The intro alone with the symphony was enough to melt your very soul. Storytelling, about a story she read, making you feel what she felt, reading these books, adding their literary experiences into the “Great American Songbook,” and hearing it with a symphony behind them successfully enhanced the lyrical imagery. So far, better than good.
They played “Damo” and “Come a Long Way”, both were fantastically blessed with the full orchestra, majestic French horns and strings everywhere. They busted out something I never thought I would really see, electric guitars (just looked out of place, but I knew something great was coming), and they played “Happy In The Sorrow Key”, the heaviest song from the album “One Lost Day”, again taking so many examples from historical artifacts to help you visualize the ideas they are singing about. An art unto itself, this is the first song that Emily took the lead on. “Three days more in Singapore, the ancient lore of currency” not placing you at any time in history, just traveling the world and throughout history. This is the kind of song you have to go back to over and over again anyway, but hearing it live with the symphony building behind it, you feel like you have been taken to the “Last of the Mohicans” soundtrack. Having noticed that Amy was the one leading most of the songs so far, their voices in different tones, and different lines of words, you just had to take which one grabbed you first and follow it until the other one took your attention.
They played “Galileo” from the album “Rites of Passage” it was among the many songs that everyone knew and was going to sing along with. With the strength of the audience singing out the chorus “HOW LONG TILL MY SOUL GETS IT RIGHT?” just as loud as the two women on the stage with the full scale “backup band” behind them were delivering it to us, you could actually see it on both of their faces, they were impressed. Referring to ideas of reincarnation, astronomy, and hangovers, there is nothing that Indigo Girls will not put into their subject matter. In fact, at this point, I began to think that these ladies do nothing but write, play, and perform music, and read. Every time I go into an album, I find references to many books I have read, and I’m sure more books than I haven’t, these girls can unload so many thoughts from what they have read to some simple guitar chords, that when you hear it like this with a symphony, it is a live experience, like no other.
The following video is their performance of “Galileo” from a previous concert.
With a “Thank y’all” at every song, they said, “I guess we should have an intermission now, it’s the way of the symphony.”
I was sitting with a couple of the musical production staff for the band. They informed me that they had just finished a new album, and it was going to be great. They compared some of the work from “Indians, Nomads, and Saints” to some of the more recent work, but they also said that they had a few surprises for us on the new release. I am waiting in great anticipation for this one, having been a fan since I was 17, and knowing what that means, this is where I become a very impatient person, and cannot wait till we get it early next year.
They came back to the stage and kicked off the 2nd set with “Chicken Man”. For some reason, I never was able to listen to that song seriously, and even this time it sounded great. “Love of our lives” came next, a song comparing relationships to broken and worn machinery, giving you a feeling of desperation, leaving you to decide which “fight” you are in “when we are fighting for our lives.” You can listen to one of their songs, because to some degree they “all sound like the others” except they don’t. Each Indigo Girls song is special, and “different.” The imagery, the sounds, the feeling, the intensity, will all vary from song to song. Lyrics will change the entire landscape of a song, pulling from every corner and aspect of human thought, the great minds of these two songwriters have tried to scale the written experience of the entire human condition, and put it to song. They have done it well so far, to tell every story, of every feeling, and every experience, and clearly, they have only scratched the surface of this endeavor, and it has been 30 years.
I would venture to say that there very little that the Indigo Girls would not try to musically deliver to a listening ear. Only on a night like this, a vast symphony behind them changed the entire experience itself into an ever-flowing rich sensation, layer upon layer of instrumental lines, tympany drums, string arrangements, bassoons and trumpets, and still, on top of it all, two acoustic guitars, and equal voices full of pure emotion to give you the words. I am still really unable to give you an idea of how moving this was, but just know, this is a rare opportunity to be moved in such a way, I suggest you take it if you are ever graced enough to have it happen in your town.
They played “Mystery”, a piece that originally had some strings in it, and this was one of those wonderful moments for them to go for broke with them. A song about someone moving into your mind, then life, and unable to describe how you are feeling. This song done with a symphony behind them was worth the entire evening. They could have done only this song and left the stage, and the evening would have been whole, perfect, and complete, as this one was enough to bring most of us to tears. Putting everything they had into this performance, holding nothing back, filling in every space with a tapestry of vivid sounds, indeed, these ladies were “GOING FOR BROKE”, pushing it to the limits, to an end of sheer beauty and fulfillment, or a disaster, the only two possible outcomes from putting everything you have into this, having all the room in the world to make mistakes, and walking the fine line and not making a single one. Going for broke, they championed this performance, hands down, no one could say otherwise.
In between each song, and them saying “Thank y’all” Amy kept saying “Man, I just love this backup band. They are great, I wanna take em on the road with us”.
By the time they played “Ghost” I was pretty emotionally spent, and they just kept going. At this point everyone was just happy, singing along, and with all the rainbow flags, and equality t-shirts, and even two dorky gay guys in front of us that had just fallen in love, there was nothing but love and acceptance of everyone that night. Even the two gay guys standing up the entire time, and singing completely out of key, yeah, you just had to love those two.
What I was not expecting was them playing “Kid Fears”, in my mind, one of the three heaviest songs they have ever written. Not sure if this was the moment to pull it out and deliver it after what we had just experienced, but it worked. Indigo Girls knew exactly what they were doing, we took the somber lyrics, and depth of the song, and everyone sang the chorus “Are you on fire” in key, off of the two women on the stage leading us. For some reason they felt they needed to perform it, there and once again, reduced the crowd to a singing, hugging mass of people, swaying together on the side of a mountain, under the moonlight.
You would think that after playing “Closer to Fine” as their token hit, every concert for 30 years, that they might just be tired of it by now. Well, they probably would be, but they didn’t have to sing it for us. They played the guitar lines, and a few lines of singing here and there, and the audience did the rest. Smiling, the Indigo Girls let the audience take the lead, and with the symphony beneath all of it, it was as if we were all performing it for them. They could not have looked happier with our version of their song.
It was over, two hours start to finish, nothing like that ever experienced in my life. I have been to over a thousand concerts in my life, so many wonderful ones to remember and write about, but this was one that will stand out from all of those.
If the album that we were told is coming is as good as I think it will be, the concerts will be even better. This summer, the Indigo Girls played several symphony gigs, and in that space between their basic simplistic production, and going over the top and ruining it all, they managed to fill that space with perfection, with the space of a razor blade cut to the limit. This concert was a masterpiece, strangely, I would like to imagine it was how the spectators felt when Beethoven performed the 9th for the first time.
Yeah, I like to think it was almost that good.
For concert tickets and venues into 2020, head over to indigogirls.com or any of their social media listed below.
About the Author: Jeremy “Jacques” Hinks
An indie GONZO music journalist in Salt Lake City, and an Anarchist behind the Zion Curtain. Jeremy Hinks is an obnoxious Type-A Male, who is embarrassingly straight and a staunch LGBTQ Ally with little tact, and a big heart. He has supported his LGBTQ friends since he was a teenager.
He has photographed on multiple tours U2, The English Beat, Peter Hook & The Light, and is somehow making a name for himself photographing Pink Floyd Tribute bands, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Britfloyd, Dead Floyd. He is one of the photographers for the LOVELOUD Foundation in Utah, an organization to bring awareness and support for the young LGBT community in Utah, and to bring an end to the epidemic of suicides there.
He also drives a Vespa, and wears kilts, is rarely seen wearing pants, should be considered armed and dangerous, so do not approach without extreme caution.