Last week I saw the Indigo Girls in concert. I think the last time I’d seen them live was ten years ago, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. I was fresh out of college, working at a summer opera festival in the Rockies, and a bunch of us music geeks hijacked one of the company vans and drove out to Red Rocks. We needed a break from watching all those nuns in Dialogues of the Carmelites jump off the back of the raked stage to their deaths.
We stood with the Rocky Mountains at our backs and the Great Plains stretched out before us. The Indigo Girls looked tiny in the landscape, but their voices soared through the loudspeakers. It was late summer, and thunderstorms gathered as the sky grew dark. We watched lightning streak out of the clouds and followed the storms as they crept across the plains.
Before last week, I hadn’t been to Toad’s Place in years, either. I’ve heard rumors that it’s thinking of leaving New Haven, which I would hate to see. Sure, it’s scuzzy and grungy, but it’s Toad’s. It belongs on York Street, and I hope it stays there.
They’re such solid performers. They’ve been around for ages, but they’re ageless.
They played a lot of their classics – more than I’d imagined they would. Which I liked, because I knew most of the songs. (I haven’t followed most of their new releases for many years.) And which I didn’t like, because it was so unadventurous. I felt that they were playing what they thought we wanted to hear. I like performers to play what they want to play, and I want them to put together a set that’s interesting and good. A performer’s job is not just to play music; it’s to curate that music, to put together a program that’s more than just a random collection of music. I’m there to listen to what they have to offer. If I just want to hear all their old stuff, I’ll dig out all those tapes I bought, well, in the days of tapes.
They worked hard: they played a long set, and they played well – except for an odd moment when Emily started singing a solo number and, after one verse, stopped abruptly and said, “I don’t want to play that one.” She talked with Amy for a second and they launched into something else.
Julie Wolf was a fabulous contributor on keyboards and accordion. I hadn’t heard her before, but I liked what she had to add. Also, I want her current gig. If I could play keyboards and accordion and anything else in my instrumentarium for a band even one-seventh as legendary as the Indigo Girls, I would float away from bliss.
For their last encore, they played “Closer to Fine,” their biggest classic of all. Everyone sang along. Everyone cheered. Everyone was having a great time. But I couldn’t help thinking that there’s something sad about performers who have become archives of themselves. Or maybe it’s not sad. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon.
Oh, and a side note to the Indigo Girls and anyone else who might think auto-play is a good idea: it’s not. Don’t do it. Don’t make your website auto-play your music. I may want to look something up on your site, but I am listening to Bernstein conducting his own opera Candide, and I’m not in the mood for a present-day Ivesian clash between Indigo Girls and Leonard Bernstein.