Indigo Girls, 23 October 2011, Woodstock Playhouse – a review

I have seen the Indigo Girls far more often than I’ve seen any other band.  I have seen them in small venues, I have seen them in large venues.  I have seen them at colleges, folk festivals, and theatres.  I have seen them in New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  I have seen them play with a full band, and I have seen them play by themselves.  I’ve had front row seats, I’ve had nosebleed seats, and sometimes, I’ve had to stand.  I even met them once, after a show in Poughkeepsie.  (I was too awe struck to say much, but I did ask Emily about a line in her song “Caramia,” and she said I’d have to figure it out on my own.  I’m still trying to figure it out.)  I have many great memories from their concerts; maybe the best was when my brother and I saw them in Saratoga Springs, and in the midst of the parking lot gridlock on the way out after the show, we rolled down the windows and blasted “Ice Ice Baby” as loud as the speakers would crank.  Music-wise, the best show I’ve seen may have been at the Garden State Performing Arts Centre in 1997; I think it was the only time I heard them play “You And Me Of The Ten Thousand Wars”; they also covered “Cortez the Killer” that night.  This past Saturday, I tallied the number of times I’ve seen them, and I came up with 17.  Then I saw them again on Sunday night, so now the ticker is up to 18.

I mention all of this because I want you, dear reader, to understand that I love the Indigo Girls, and have for a long time, and will probably continue to for a long time.  Might be important to keep in mind as you read the following paragraphs.

Sunday’s show was… okay.  Not great, not terrible.  The set list was somewhat lackluster.  I thought they played entirely too much material from the new album, which, well, more on that later.  I was glad to hear them play “Love Of Our Lives” and “Salty South.”  The violinist and keyboardist who played with them were good, and just watching Amy thrashing away was, as always, pretty great.  I enjoyed the opening act, Common Rotation; they were quite funny, and since Moxy Früvous went on permanent hiatus ten years ago, I’ve been sorely missing bands that are funny on stage.

Regarding the Indigo Girls’ new album, Beauty Queen Sister – oy.  One or two tracks are not terrible, but on the whole, it’s pretty disappointing; all the more so because their preceding album, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, was so astonishingly good; maybe their best.  I can’t think of many other musicians who put out such a superb album more than two decades into their career (Neil Young’s Sleeps With Angels is an obvious exception).  I feel uneasy with my disappointment in their new album.  They obviously don’t owe me anything, and after all they’ve given me already with their music, I feel like I am the one in their debt.  So part of me doesn’t even feel entitled to criticize.  Except… well, they do, sort of, owe me something.  It’s the same thing that we all owe each other and the world (the whole wide world!); good quality work.  This idea is not much in favour, currently, perhaps never was, but I hold to it nonetheless.  If we’re going to make an effort at something, it should be something that we care about, and our effort should not be half-hearted.

I know full well that creativity comes in fits and starts, and it’s almost a fool’s mission to try to make a career out of it.  I also know that any time we really do let the creativity flow, it’s impossible to see the results clearly for some time.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Impossible to say before the dust settles, and sometimes not even then.  I don’t think that’s what happened with this new album though; it really feels as though they just plain ran out of steam.  I hope I am wrong; I hope they find their muses again and return to form.  I’ve looked up to them for a long time, because they haven’t been complacent in their writing or playing, and they haven’t rested on their laurels.  They have given me hope that aging does not have to be a process of losing one’s values and capacity to grow.  I hope I can look up to them again in the future.

Beauty Queen Sister by the Indigo Girls – in stores now.

I’m not suggesting you buy it, mind you, I’m just letting you know.


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