gogirlsmusic.com: Amy Ray Performance Review
original publish date: june 2005
by sandra molina, gogirlsmusic.com
There’s something endearing about a performer who has a Grammy on the mantle tuning her guitar almost continually throughout her performances and sheepishly apologizing for it.
Welcome to the world of Amy Ray of Indigo Girls’ fame in her role as solo punk/indie artist on the road for a one-month tour in support of her second solo effort – Prom.
She’s juxtaposed between mainstream recognition she has earned as one-half of the folk-rock duo and her desire to play way outside the box and be a solo indie artist not just pushing the proverbial envelope, but ripping it up.
She even joked at one of two shows in Southern California – The El Rey in Los Angeles (May 12) and The Galaxy in Santa Ana (May 13) – about the commercial success she has garnered in her musical partnership with fellow Indigo Girl Emily Saliers.
“We thought the name Indigo Girls would be more marketable,” she said with a roll of her eyes and a laugh at the Galaxy Show when contemplating names for her back up band this tour.
The two shows brought to life the yin and yang of Ray’s career between the commercial power pop chords and solid rock rhythms and the independent spirit she lives and breathes.
Ray’s sets mainly featured songs from the new release, with tunes from her first solo release, Stag, well represented, which was not a problem since the songs fit seamlessly together with shared themes of gender identity, sexual orientation, politics and non-conformity.
Two songs in particular, “Driver Education” and “Let It Ring,” brought the most fervent reactions from both audiences.
From the opening crack of the snare and bass drum that opens up “Driver Education,” the crowds danced in unison as Ray sang about the high school experience – hers, yours ours. It was hard to tell who was enjoying the moment more – Ray who was obviously having fun or the crowd who was thoroughly enjoying what is arguably the best radio-friendly song radio listeners won’t ever hear.
“Let It Ring,” a song about how the religious right does not have a market on how much Jesus loves his followers, rang through both concert halls with a fevered pitch.
As she tuned her mandolin, Ray introduced the song: “Everyone thinks they own the Lord.” When she didn’t get the typical reaction she has received in the South from where she hails, Ray playfully told the crowd she was definitely sure she was no longer in the South. One must assume that in the South, speaking of religion gets a more fervent response than the indifferent one from the L.A. audience. Ray didn’t use the same intro in Santa Ana: “I’ve broken several strings,” she said, “I hope they make it through.”
As soon as the song began, one instantly knew why the strings were in such peril. Who knew that the mandolin was a punk rock instrument? Then again, there are no boundaries for Ray, so of course, a mandolin.
Close behind on the highlight reel was Ray’s performance of, “Covered For You,” a song in the same vein of the classic rock ballad but with a more up-to-date groove. She sang the lyrics, “You cut yourself like a high school kid/ I did it once, everybody did/ just to feel the emptying of everything,” with such emotional abandonment that one could swear her heart was, if not on her sleeve, on the guitar strings. How deep do these lyrical wounds go?
In truth, a majority of the dozen or so songs performed at either show were notable. The songs are that good and the musicianship behind Ray – guitarist Les Nuby, drummer Will Lochamy and bassist Jody Bleyle – produced a tight sound.
Even at the end of a short, but grueling tour made up of continuous shows night after night, Ray’s vocals held up as she showed that since her last solo tour a few years ago, she has grown more accustomed to the sole lead singer role. Plugged in – Ray’s onstage persona is formidable. It’s a cross between rock guitar legend Keith Richards’ hunched over guitar body posture and slinging arm strokes with Neil Young’s jumping and foot-stomping moves.
But make no mistake, what Ray put out on both stages was pure, honest and her own brand of rock ‘n’ roll.