with Brandi Carlile, Larkin Poe
House of Blues, Orlando, FL • February 27, 2010
The Lilith Fair has been dusted off and is about to bring feminine-flavored folk music all across the land again this summer, Pavement just announced that they’re back together, and, as I step through the House of Blues doors into the Indigo Girls concert, Portishead’s “Roads” welcomes me over the sound system… so, clearly, it must be 1994.
I and the 2,000+ other patrons who chose to spend their Saturday night having their ears bombarded with impassioned, country-leaning folk songs must have stepped through a time warp. The only thing missing was lighters in the air, in place of fancy cell phones.
Opener Larkin Poe has a lot in common with a certain popular country act. The group, up until recently, was a trio of sisters (going by the name The Lovell Sisters), but has since downsized to allow for the oldest sister to get hitched and live a “normal” life. Of the remaining ladies, one plays the dobro. Sound familiar? This band is one controversial political statement away from being the Dixie Chicks. Musically, Larkin Poe is all about gorgeous harmonies and quiet bluegrass songs that would sound quite cozy next to a campfire.
The show was advertised as “Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile,” leaving me to ponder “Who the hell is Brandi Carlile and how did she score co-billing rights alongside the Indigo Girls?!” Stepping in for a small handful of dates, the Seattle area songstress does well on her own headlining tours, as attested to by the swooning audience, and has formed a tight bond with the Georgia duo over the years. It’s the kind of bond that finds them jumping into each other’s sets, as when the more rocking Indigo half (Amy Ray) plugged in a Gretsch and slipped onto the stage during Carlile’s set to join in on “Looking Out.”
Much like Amy Ray, who had finished a solo tour with her electric band just days before, Carlile seems to be juggling two sides to her personality and it shows in her performance. There’s the country girl who croons like Patsy Cline on heartbreaking ballads like “The Story,” and there’s the chick who swings her hair and attacks the guitar on more rockin’ numbers like “Dreams.” Every time she throws her head back in music-made ecstasy, or tosses a guitar pick straight from her hip out to the fans, another heart in the crowd breaks. Carlile has not only the voice and the power to keep a room captivated, but she’s not too hard on the eyes either. It’s when she covers Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” and then “Folsom Prison Blues,” that she truly owns every pair of eyes in the room. Even the bathroom attendant’s foot was tappin’ during those rousing covers!
Since 1985, Indigo Girls has been making music that spills over with sincerity, made palatable by the yin/yang vocals and songwriting stylings of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Having started off in the college rock circuit that weaned fellow Georgians, R.E.M., the pair rode through the ’80s, soared in the ’90s alongside 10,000 Maniacs and Sarah McLachlan, and is still bringing tears to the eyes of fans 15 years later. The Orlando show was a sell-out, no surprise there.
Sneaking new songs off of last year’s impressive Poseidon and the Bitter Bug into a set that was chock full of old crowd-pleasers (like “Closer to Fine,” “Shame,” and “Get Out the Map”), the Girls entertained for two hours straight without signs of wear. Ray was all over the stage, often wandering over to keyboard/accordion player Julie Wolf during Salier’s songs, or strutting up to the edge of the stage to connect with fans down front. Neither of the veteran players, who are creeping up on 50, shows any signs of slowing down.
From the very start, playing their classic “Galileo,” they began the trend of bringing Carlile out onstage to turn the pair into a trio. It was as much a union of musical souls as it was a passing of the torch to a new generation of folk singers. While Indigo Girls stood confident in the center spotlight as the night’s headliner, there was plenty of breathing room for this up and comer to collaborate whole-heartedly.
Bookending the night, Carlile and her whole band came back out to send everyone off with “Go” as the encore.