The Indigo Girls at the Palace Theater, December 15, 1999

By Michael Campbell

An energetic and adoring if not quite capacity Palace theater audience warmly embraced the Indigo Girls (Emily Saliers and Amy Ray) and company. The Girls, touring in support of their latest Audio CD release, Come On Now Social, were effectively augmented by keyboards, bass, drums and cello. This show was quite a contrast to the only other time I've seen them, which was roughly five years ago. At that show (part of the Chattanooga-based Bessie Smith Music weekend), I was transfixed by ability of only two voices and acoustic guitars to evoke pin-drop silence from a rowdy crowd of fifty-plus thousand.

At the Palace, it was clear from the opening thunder of "Go" that this band could go wherever they chose instrumentally as well as vocally; all but the drummer contributed to vocals. Their European rhythm section, anchored by McCartney veteran drummer Blair Cunningham, provided no funk (the Girls are a lot of things, but funky isn't one of them), but an equally satisfying pulse comparable to the rhythm section of U2. The keyboard work of Carol Isaacs delivered smooth, filling layers of texture, as well as a punchy emulation of a horn section (used to optimum effect on the Memphis-y "Peace Tonight"). The Girls ably handled acoustic and electric guitar chores, with Amy displaying some wicked chops on the latter. Even with all this firepower, the ensemble never lost focus on the kernel of their sound, that being the chemistry between the voices of Amy and Emily.

They have lost none of their intensity as "vengeful folkies" as the anthemic "Faye Tucker" demonstrated. Oddly enough, the only tune that lacked a little of its original edge was their first mainstream hit "Closer to Fine," although the mass sing-along could account for that. Ultimately, the Indigo Girls have progressed to an ease with many styles of delivering the core of their essence: passion fueled by a strong sense of justice.

Opening act Michelle Malone powered her solo performance with some heavy-duty, stereo-split PAF-pickup-equipped electric guitar, single-handedly generating enough sparks for a full rock band. Occasionally dropping the tuning of her guitar's bass string to D, she was able to fill the bottom of the sonic range while thrashing out some snarly Page and Young riffs. With vocal dynamics that journeyed from straight-ahead rock to a soft and subtle reading, she showed why the Girls frequently recruit her during their own set.