The Indigo Girls | Shadowboxers The Pageant July 21, 2012
A good-sized crowd came to the Pageant on Saturday night to dance, sing, sway and canoodle along to the music of the Indigo Girls, but you had to hand it to the Shadowboxers. The five-piece, all-male band hails from Atlanta -- like the headliner -- and in addition to a solid 45-minute set of up-tempo pop-rock, the band backed up Emily Saliers and Amy Ray for the Indigo Girls' 23 songs. So it's forgivable if its opening set - long on harmonies, sticky hooks and peppy stage moves -- was pleasant but banal. Instrumentalists and vocalists Scott Schwartz, Matt Lipkins and Adam Hoffman were melodically in sync throughout, and the blue-eyed soul sheen came off like a less-slick Maroon 5. The band's cover of Marvin Gaye's "Flying High in the Friendly Skies" was proof of the members' soul roots, but the guys would certainly earn their keep during the headlining set.
At this point in the band's 25-year career, Emily Saliers and Amy Ray occupy a respectable in-between status: they regularly release quality albums every few years but are maintained by a fan base forged by the formative albums and singles from nearly twenty years ago. So songs from 1992's landmark Rites of Passage were met with whoops, dancing and a lightning storm of cell phone camera flashes, while tracks from last year's Beauty Queen Sister were politely appreciated. For a largely acoustic folk act, that's not a bad problem to have. This is a band that's too restless to be called a legacy act but smart enough to know that these ladies (and a few men) came out to sing along to "Closer to Fine."
Saliers and Ray took the stage with the Shadowboxers a little after 9 p.m. and began with "Least Complicated," a song that showcases Saliers' deft touch at cataloguing the briars and thorns of young, dumb love. And for an audience that likely discovered the Indigo Girls at that nexus of naiveté and self-discovery, the song was a welcome opener. "Heartache for Everyone," one of Ray's songs, continued the theme with her more gruff, more twang-inflected voice serving as a counterpoint to Saliers' high and sweet delivery. It's that vocal interplay that made the band famous, and while the full-band arrangement sometimes scuttled that harmonic intertwining, more often than not Ray and Saliers underlined what makes their musical relationship so special.
Harmonies aside, the band has always served as a push-and-pull for Saliers' romantic optimism and Ray's unflinching eye for injustices big and small. "Shame on You" provided her with some soft-touch moralizing (and left room for a little bass-groove action as well), and a spare reading of "Three Hits" recalled the stark beauty of the band's earlier recordings.
Older songs brought the responsive and good-natured crowd to life (an extended pass at "Chickenman" in particular), though some more recent cuts shone in the full-band setting. Saliers' "Love of Our Lives," from 2009's Poseidon & the Bitter Bug, was a highlight, and "Beauty Queen Sister" came through thanks to some rangy electric guitars and the Shadowboxers' spot-on harmonies. The hits came more frequently as the night progressed, with "Closer to Fine" and "Galileo" predictably receiving the most fanfare. That both songs were successful singles in their time is a reminder that the Indigo Girls were able to sneak a little existentialism and philosophy 101 into the Top 40, and that has to be worth something. A brief encore began with the new song "Share the Moon" and ended with a pass at Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue," in which Saliers and Ray shared verses with the Shadowboxers' vocalists. They've been covering that song for years, but thanks to the backing band or to the good vibes in the room, there was enough new life in it to appreciate. The same could be said for the songs that came before it.
Personal Bias: I had a good number of Indigo Girls tapes back in high school but never re-bought the albums on CD, so the band's music is stuck in a place and time for me.
I also listened to the live album 1200 Curfews so often that when I finally saw them (in 1997 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre), I remember feeling cheated that Ray and Saliers did many of the same "live" breakdowns, tempo-shifts and stage banter that I knew from the tapes. It was the first time I realized that concerts can be every bit as rehearsed and rote as a school play.
Overheard: "Do you think Novak's is a ghost town right now?"
1. "Least Complicated" 2. "Heartache for Everyone" 3. Unknown 4. "Shame on You" 5. "Get Out the Map" 6. "Three Hits" 7. "We Get to Feel It All" 8. "Gone Again" 9. "Feed and Water the Horses" 10. "Shed Your Skin" 11. "Love of Our Lives" 12. "Beauty Queen Sister" 13. "Trouble" 14. "Mariner Moonlighting" 15. "Virginia Woolf" 16. "Chickenman" 17. "What Are You Like?" 18. "Go" 19. "Closer to Fine" 20. "Making Promises" 21. "Galileo" 22. "Share the Moon" 23. "Tangled Up in Blue"