I once played acoustic guitar rather competently. It would not be long before I was surpassed (and then some) by my more musically-gifted baby brothers, but this six-string upbringing made my teenage affinity for the Indigo Girls a more natural fit than you might assume.
I've seen at least a dozen Indigo Girls gigs in my time. At each of these performances, I was one of about a dozen straight males in the audience. While in St. Louis, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Emily Sailers, the more matronly and introspective of the pair, who came up in the same Athens, Georgia scene that spawned REM. Sailers has long been, far and away, my favorite of the Girls, her voice a natural instrument, and her stage demeanor far more easygoing than the intensely militant Amy Ray.
But on Saturday night at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, Ray proved what good can come from the power of persistence, and also clued the audience in as to why the Girls, who will play the Woodland Park Zoo on July 26 (already sold out), have been playing the Seattle area so frequently of late.
To the latter, Ray's girlfriend lives in Seattle. In fairness, the Girls have always had an affinity for the Pacific Northwest, but add love and animal urges to the equation, and they find themselves back this way every third or fourth month. From the stage, Ray even went so far as to namecheck Claire's, the downtown Edmonds diner up the road that was once part of Claire's Pantry's north-end empire.
Ray's vocal work has rang a little too gruff over the years, especially compared with Sailers'. But on a postcard-perfect Saturday night -- the performance hall sits on a hill overlooking Puget Sound -- Ray exhibited an enhanced sense of tonal dexterity, and the result was a flawless performance by two veteran collaborators (accompanied only by a keyboardist in faux-hawk and tie) who can all but read each others' musical minds. While the set list tilted heavily toward new material, there were enough oldies ("Closer to Fine," "Power of Two," "Galileo") sprinkled in to keep the enthusiastic crowd from growing restless.
So, yeah, the Edmonds Center for the Arts? Weird venue for a popular music act to play, right? Only on the surface. Executive director Joe McIalwain (full disclosure: we attended high school together, and Joe and his brother Ken are longtime friends of mine) showed the same penchant for booking unexpected acts when he held a similar position at Kirkland's equivalent venue, booking Cowboy Junkies (also playing the Zoo this summer, six days before the Indigo Girls) to play an even more intimate space (the Edmonds facility has a balcony and maybe double the capacity of the Kirkland space). Upon moving north, he swiftly booked Colin Hay, the Dusty 45s, and Ladysmith Black Mambazzo, among others, to grace his stage. It's dynamic programming like this that keep the cobwebs from creeping into community theater.