Indigo Girls
with Cara Dillon & Pina
at the London Forum,
London, UK
(8 May 2002)

Until January 2002, the Indigo Girls hadn't played the United Kingdom in a good six years. They had a new album coming out in March, and they needed to play their new songs. However, since they'd been gone for so long, they sometimes seemed to be apologizing for playing so many new numbers. They knew, deep down, that while the crowd was receptive to the new CD, everyone really wanted to hear their old favorites.

Now it's May, and they're back. After having been away for so many years, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, better known together as the Indigo Girls, returned to the United Kingdom as part of another short European tour. Perhaps because this return visit was so soon after the last one and maybe due to the discomfort they experienced in having to apologize for playing so many new songs, they approached this tour with a different perspective. They launched into the show with four oldies before they tried out anything from the new album, Become You. Interestingly, since the album was out, the fans knew the new songs anyway and didn't seem to object to hearing them. While they didn't sing along as loudly to the new material, the audience joined in on the new songs as well as the old.

Saliers announced, "It's good to be back!" That's all they needed to say prior to opening the show with "Shame on You." Both Ray and Saliers seemed to match the crowd's mood from the start. The audience, seemingly composed of hard-core fans, cheered as the song started. Individuals jumped up and down in their close-knit corners, and some started singing along without invitation. "We just can't stay away now," Ray explained before their second number, "Least Complicated," another fan favorite. Ray and Saliers had fun letting the very enthusiastic crowd sing a verse on its own. Two more oldies followed, "Jonas and Ezekiel" and "Get out the Map." "Jonas and Ezekiel" apparently had been a request the previous night in Brighton that they'd decided to add to the setlist.

It was only after they had pleased their audience with four older songs that they started in on the new material, the title track to the new album, followed by "Deconstruction." The fans towards the front were singing along and mouthing the words; these were the faithful who learn all the words to all the songs, regardless of how new they are. Towards the middle of the show, Ray and Saliers finally started to take time to talk with the audience. They knew they'd won them over; no apologies were necessary this time. While inter-song patter remained at a minimum during the entire show, Ray had fun indirectly apologizing to a clerk at their hotel. A former smoker, she was unable to get a non-smoking room and was perhaps a trifle "gruff" with her clerk. "It's worse to be this way," she explained, after her apology. "It's better to be nice all the time or be an asshole and live with it," she said with a laugh.

They continued intermixing new and old songs. "We haven't done this song in a while," Saliers admitted while introducing "Andy." "Maybe we remember it," she said with a grin. Of course they did. However, Saliers later joked about how they'd just come back from a week in Germany, "and I keep forgetting I can speak English."

When they'd been in the UK earlier this year, they'd toured with a bassist and keyboard player. This time, it was just Saliers and Ray on their own. There were times, however, that they brought out their opening acts to perform on a couple of numbers. First out was Seth Lakeman, who played fiddle with Cara Dillon earlier in the evening. He joined them on a song Ray had co-written with Michelle Malone, "I Don't Wanna Know," from Strange Fire, the Indigo Girls' first CD. One problem that had been evident all evening was the poor sound. It was obvious that Lakeman was playing, but it wasn't until his solo that his fiddle could be heard. There were occasions when Ray's mandolin wasn't audible, either.

While the sound wasn't its best during the main act, it was worse for the supports. Pina, with her debut album, Quick Look, was the first to deal with a sound system that worked only on her high notes. There seems to be a bit of a Melanie feel to her voice, but it was hard to tell when her lower notes seemed to disappear into the ozone. One of her songs, "Josephine," sounded rather haunting, but it might just have been the sound. Pina, overall, seemed quite thrilled just to be there and didn't have a problem when she started playing a song other than the one she introduced. "It's the wrong song. I can't believe it," she cried.

Cara Dillon, a Northern Ireland singer who has played with the Equation, also lost her lower register to the sound system. Dillon's material mostly is comprised of traditional songs with contemporary arrangements, such as her take on "Black is the Colour." She apologized at one point for playing some sad songs. "Your job," she explained to the audience, "is to keep us nice and calm before Indigos come on -- it's conserving your energy." Her theory, of course, is just the opposite of what most support acts try to do -- promote themselves and get the audience excited for the main show. Perhaps it was her cold that held her back; she also apologized for her hoarse voice.

It was only when Pina and Dillon were invited to join Saliers and Ray onstage that it was possible to hear their voices clearly. Pina sang a verse (holding handwritten lyrics in her hand) on "Closer to Fine," and Dillon took a verse on "Soon to Be Nothing." Ray complimented Dillon and band (Seth and Sam Lakeman), noting that they'd "brought us scones and clotted cream last night." The crowd was requesting various titles, but Ray informed them that "we learned this song all together." Apparently, now was not the time to change the setlist. Dillon's voice shone with a silvery sheen, and the Indigo Girls' fans gave her a nice applause after her solo.

Prior to the final encores, traditional crowd pleasers "Galileo" and "Kid Fears," Saliers announced that "we didn't know we could come back so soon, but now that we can...." She stopped to grin before announcing, to audience applause and hoopla, that they'd be playing the Cambridge Folk Festival in early August and hinting that they play some other UK festivals around that time.

How to win over your fans? The Indigo Girls have the formula down this time around. First off, don't apologize for feeling the pressure to play and promote your new material. Secondly, make sure you play enough of the older material to keep your fans happy. And finally, make it clear that you appreciate them in turn by returning in a timely manner and not waiting six years for your next appearance.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 7 June 2002

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