After a 10-year absence, the Indigo Girls returned to the UK this summer in a tour that included the Cambridge Folk Festival and ended on Sunday 30th July at the Islington Assembly Hall, London.
Clearly their fans have kept the faith, judging by the enthusiastic reception as Emily Saliers and Amy Ray appeared on stage for their closing night of the tour, and by the surprisingly tuneful audience participation on favourites such as ‘Fill it up again’ and ‘Galileo’.
The many couples in the audience found a romantic slow-dance moment and perhaps some warm memories in ‘She’s saving me’. Being just down the road from Bloomsbury, relatively speaking, it was only fitting that we’d hear ‘Virginia Woolf’ – not just a tribute to the great writer herself, but a reminder of the role the Indigo Girls had in the formative years of so many young women (‘the battle surrounded the white flag of your youth…a kind of a telephone line through time’), all the more poignant looking back from where we are now (‘empty pages for the no-longer young’).
It wasn’t all retrospective, though. Songs from their latest album, One Lost Day, included upbeat ‘Elizabeth’ and sober ‘Fishtails’, both moving in their very different ways. ‘The Rise of the Black Messiah’ possibly lost some of its intended impact outside the civil rights context of the American South, but otherwise the show was not overly political, perhaps surprisingly in today’s controversial times, focusing instead on the music and the memories.
The format followed the traditional alternation between ‘Amy’ songs, typically more gritty with a dose of social commentary, and the more folksy and personal ‘Emily’ songs. The effortless switching between their respective styles, between lead vocals and supporting harmonies, and from acoustic to electric guitars to mandolins, speaks to how long these women have been making music together.
The supporting band deserve a mention as well, in particular Lyris Hung on violin. A long-time collaborator with the Indigo Girls, she clearly knows the songs and their inspirations well, and her intimate, empathically judged harmonies on the slower songs were as notable as the energetic folk fiddling that perfectly complemented the guitars on the foot-stomping Faye Tucker. The band were also joined on stage not only by support act Lucy Wainwright Roche, but also her mother Suzzy Roche of The Roches, who were a major influence for the Indigo Girls in their early years.
Towards the end, we also heard ‘Train inside’ from of Emily’s new debut solo album, Murmuration Nation, forthcoming on 11 August 2017, which promises to be a return to her country roots and deeply personal storytelling style.
Overall, the Indigo Girls kept their promise to pack in as many songs as possible before the Assembly Hall’s 11pm curfew, in a long show that nonetheless never seemed to drag. After 30 years together they have built up a huge back-catalogue, and by the time they closed out the show with ‘Closer To Fine’ as the final sing-along encore, there were still many favourites left unsung. Let’s hope it won’t be another ten years before they return this time.