Anyone that can get their head around the unrestrained euphoria of drawing a winning lottery ticket, witnessing the birth of a child and scoring a Grammy Award – on the same day – can only begin to understand the bliss that the Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers and Amy Ray must have felt as they walked onto the Red Rocks Amphitheatre stage July 27 after an eonic hiatus.
Ray spoke of their elation in a recent interview with AXS.com, saying, “We didn’t think we would ever get to again. And then this came up and we were like, ‘Yes! (laughing)’ We play with (Mary) Chapin (Carpenter) that night and play with the symphony. I mean what more can we ask for?” And if that wasn’t a big enough hint, perhaps the folk rockers’ collective smiles from the first notes of “Love Of Our Lives” to the last notes of the extraordinary career retrospective would have provided persuasive evidence.
The duo’s innate ability to blend compelling melodies with consequential lyrics on powerful tunes such as “Go” and “Mystery” would have been enough of a reason to make the pilgrimage to the universe’s mecca of music. But the mournful violins from the “symphonic backing band” on “Yoke,” “Ghost” and “War Rugs” made the affecting songs brilliantly painful to listen to, particularly on the latter effort as Saliers somberly intoned, “I want to understand / The soul it takes to stand / For something bigger than / Myself...”
It was gloriously surreal to witness the Girls’ doleful genius on their musical handiwork, only to give in to their unbridled joy in between tunes. The jubilant Ray said on more than one occasion that, “This is so fun!” Before launching into the stark reality of “Virginia Woolf” – “The battle surrounded the white flag of your youth” – Saliers turned and enthusiastically applauded her orchestral charges while jumping up and down.
After three decades of performing, Saliers and Ray could have certainly held their own on the stage. But the orchestra’s lush strings and woodwinds made the acoustic gem “Kid Fears” all the more memorable and the brass section brightened up the already lively “Closer To Fine.” The intricate instrumentation even transformed the uncomplicated “Chickenman” into an orchestral masterpiece.
Singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche dropped by long enough to sing cameo harmonies on “War Rugs” and “Closer To Fine.” And then of course there was the 10 thousand-member backing choir. Ray happily turned the vocals over to the gleeful Red Rocks faithful on crowd favorites “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine” without missing a beat – or a decibel.
As the stirring recital concluded, it was hard not to reflect on Ray’s comments in regards to the importance of inspiration. “I guess if I'm not being inspired, I don’t want to live anymore really, you know?” For the sake of Amy Ray’s continued health – and that of the Indigo Girls’ legions of loyal fans – let’s just hope that it isn’t eons until their next Red Rocks gig.