Chastain Park, Atlanta, GA • June 2, 2000
There is a reason that most people don’t take all of a band’s CDs, put them in a CD player, and hit random play in an attempt to make an effective greatest hits mix tape. Rarely does a band’s song repertoire sound so much alike – especially over numerous albums – that tempos and styles flow well enough in a musical crapshoot to keep such a tape from becoming a wild roller coaster of sounds.
Unfortunately, the Indigo Girls’ first show of a two-night hometown stand took on more of this random quality than it should have. A few years and albums prior, the duo could have gotten away with such a concert. But as they have moved away somewhat from their acoustic folk sound into a more rocking style over the past several years, their songs have taken on very divergent sounds.
As a result of mixing tempos and styles without smooth transitional songs, the show never completely found its groove. One particular stretch in the middle of the show aptly illustrated the schizophrenic nature when three slower, prettier songs (“Love Will Come to You,” “Power of Two,” and a hidden religious-reflection song on their newest album) leapfrogged three rousing rockers (“Shed Your Skin,” “Gone Again,” and “Go”).
The back-and-forth nature took a bit of a toll on the audience, many of whom stood up and sat down more frequently than they would during a “Simon Says” game. Some of the sit-down nature was no doubt due to post-dinner lethargy that Chastain Park, a wonderful outdoor amphitheater, instills by allowing visitors to bring in food, candles, drinks and even tables for shows.
While rather different from the headliner, the opening band, Spearhead wasn’t part of the problem at all. In fact, the audience had actually been unexpectedly well moved to participate by charismatic lead singer Michael Franti (ex-Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy). He blended spoken word, Jamaican flavors, and light-edged hip-hop into a pleasing, socially conscious blend that won rather strong approval with an audience that by and large had probably never heard of the band.
The audience was able to keep some of their enthusiasm maintained throughout the Indigo Girls’ set simply from the familiarity with the songs themselves. The crowd joyfully got into the act during certain favorite songs, singing along entire choruses when prompted by the duo. After all, this was a hometown crowd seeing their local favorites in an amazing outdoor venue.
Oddly enough, the Indigo Girls chose to play their most popular hit, “Closer To Fine,” about midway through the night, closing the encore instead with the quieter “Kid Fears” and upbeat “Galileo.” Whether it was intentional or not, the two also produced a very humorous moment during “Kid Fears” when they said that a longtime friend would be joining them onstage.
The crowd immediately sensed that R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who sang on the recorded version, was making an appearance, and bubbled with anticipation. Instead, fellow Atlantan and recently-shorn Shawn Mullins hit the stage to sing Stipe’s part. Cheers quickly abated and then returned as many in the crowd tried to figure out who the heck he was and then figured it out. Mullins’ guest appearance was far more useful than another Atlantan’s, Michelle Malone, who is touring as part of the band. While the other four members of the backing band added noted audible enhancements to the show, her presence was neither heard nor felt.
The problem with the show – just like with hitting random play – was with the set list order, not the songs themselves. Ironically, the song selection was excellent, as the band played hits from every album except nomads, indians, saints. While most of the Indigo Girls’ work sounds similar whether it is live or recorded, two particularly impressive exceptions were “Faye Tucker” and “Sister,” whose dark, atmospheric qualities on Come On Now Social were enhanced tremendously in their live versions.
Instead of relying on theatrics or other performance tricks, the Indigo Girls rely on their stellar songwriting to make their shows great. But as this particular night at home proved, the proper placement of those songs can turn a great show into an average one very quickly.