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“This is the biggest band we’ve ever had,” Emily Saliers joked from the stage, motioning to the 40-plus musicians behind her and musical partner Amy Ray.
Since this summer, the Indigo Girls have dotted their tour schedule with shows backed by local symphonies, so for their Atlanta homecoming at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Friday night, the girls were backed by the Georgia Symphony Orchestra with the engaging Michael Alexander conducting.
For some – most, really – bands, dressing their songs in a symphonic cloak might make their music sound disjointed or overwrought. But the Indigo Girls’ 25-year catalog thrived, with racing cellos backing “Compromise” and touches of flute on “The Wood Song.”
No matter how many times you may have witnessed them live over the years – and considering the dedication of their fan base, it’s probably been in the dozens for most – this setting provided a freshness that only added, never subtracted, from their songs. Saliers and Ray also seemed jazzed by their surroundings, commenting more than once about how much fun they were having and performing with unforced geniality.
It’s amazing, really, that after two and a half decades together, these two are still ideal partners, their opposite-tone voices harmonizing mellifluously and their tart (Ray) and honeyed (Saliers) song styles perfect complements.
At Friday’s nearly sold-out show, the pair zig-zagged through their musical history, from 1990’s “World Falls” to 2009’s “Sugar Tongue” to last year’s lyrically intriguing “Able to Sing.” Though the girls cracked a few jokes about the melancholy, lovelorn nature of many of their songs – “Nothing like a little light-hearted Indigo Girls tune for the holidays,” Saliers quipped after the heartwrenching “Come on Home” – they didn’t neglect their most familiar offerings.
“Power of Two,” still their most gorgeous song – lyrically and melodically – simmered in its own sweetness, while the Ray-fronted “Kid Fears” included a call-and-response of the “Are you on fire?” refrain. The passionate rendition of the song spurred the first ovation of the night, with many in the crowd remaining on their feet for “Galileo,” one of the pair’s few traditional radio hits.
The riveted crowd heartily crooned the bridge of “Galileo” as Ray, Saliers and the GSO played along. It wasn’t too much of a stretch since most people in the room had, at some point in their lives, probably sung it with the car windows rolled down, also wondering how long until their souls get it right.
After a 15-minute intermission, the Indigo Girls and GSO returned with “Love of Our Lives” from 2009’s “Poseidon and the Bitter Bug” album and, a few songs later, returned to their mid-‘90s era for “Fugitive.”
Throughout out the show, there were subtle reminders that playing with a symphony means there is no hiding wobbly vocals behind heavy drums or bass. Voices and harmonies are front and center, raw and naked.
But followers of the duo know that even since their days performing around Emory University, the Indigo Girls have defined real. Nice to see that hasn’t changed.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene