About a quarter-century into a career that has earned them a fervent fanbase addicted to their mix of vocal harmonies, acoustic strumming and empowered earnestness, Indigo Girls don’t seem to have a whole lot of surprises up their sleeves. Yet they managed to breathe energy and life into some catalog cuts and a helping of brand new songs in a fully committed, joyful, nearly two-hour affair at the Egg.
They came at it sideways, in a sense, with an atypical lineup: Neither offering their stripped-down show nor their full-band instrumentation, Emily Saliers and Amy Ray were joined by electric violinist Lyris Hung, who made some vital contributions, and a utility keyboard-piano-accordion player who was unfortunately reduced to aural wallpaper for long stretches. (Opening trio Common Rotation joined for a few very successful songs at the end, not so much padding out a full-band song as deepening the vocal harmonies and adding some banjo coloring.)
A key subplot in this well-paced, dynamically varied show was the Girls’ ability to rock, stripped of the easy-listening sensibilities that can be present on record. With Saliers on banjo and Ray on mandolin, the energetic “Get Out the Map” was an early highlight. The duo’s trademark vocal interplay was joined, as it was numerous times throughout the evening, by the sing-along efforts of the crowd for the winning “Fill It Up Again.” Old chestnut “Land of Canaan” managed to thoroughly rock on the back of Saliers and Ray’s vigorously strummed acoustic guitars and a thoroughly biting (if abbreviated) violin solo from Hung.
The duo were happy, though, to put the spotlight on material from the just-released “Beauty Queen Sister.” The midtempo, Irish-inflected “Damo” was an odd choice for an opener but came off well. “Able to Sing,” a riff on Grimm’s Fairy Tales, one of those recent incidents of unexplained bird deaths, and possibly the modern music industry, was delightfully chilling. “Four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie/Could open up their sweet throats to serenade a king/That’s a lot of heat to take and still be able to sing,” Saliers sang, in a pithy burst of the sort of dorm-room metaphor that makes the group so endearing to their fans. Both “John” and “Feed and Water the Horses,” though, were rather mawkish tales of newly embraced rural life that came off, unintentionally, as self-parody.
Deep cut “Kid Fears” was a sweeping, powerful set-closer, with vocal harmonies seemingly flying everywhere—particularly with the addition of Common Rotation’s Eric Kufs, who provided the Michael Stipe vocals from the 1989 rereleased version of Indigo Girls’ eponymous debut effort.
The inevitable “Closer to Fine” was still to come—not a surprise, but one could do worse than hearing a great song played with enduring commitment in a room full of satisfied acolytes. This performance was the furthest thing from mailing it in; Indigo Girls were determined to earn their adulation, and did so.