`Indigo Girls': An Act of Faith

POP MUSIC

WHEN Emily Saliers and Amy Ray - the Indigo Girls - sing together, listeners get more than heavenly harmonies, memorable melodies, and gritty guitar riffs. They get philosophy, religion, and a kick in the pants. Enough talking about saving the world, do something, the two command, toppling the stasis of statue-like ``Thinkers.'' In their most recent single, ``Hammer and A Nail,'' the women prod:

Gotta get out of bed,

get a hammer and a nail,

learn how to use my hands.

Not just my head.

...A refuge never grows

from a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose.

Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

At a concert here earlier in their tour, this song and others brought the adoring audience to deafening applause that overwhelmed the two women. Not a flashy act, the two Indigo Girls simply play acoustic guitars, accompanied by a bass player, Sara Lee, who stands alone in the back.

The fans were the most enthusiastic this reviewer has ever seen at a show of this size. Throughout the evening, they sang along with the duo, stood up to cheer between songs, and wouldn't give up until the women came back for two encores.

Ms. Saliers and Ms. Ray write their own lyrics and music, and their repertoire includes a variety of styles - from slow, folk ballads like ``Southland in the Springtime'' from their latest album, to torrid, scratchy rock songs like ``Pushing the Needle Too Far.'' Ray's voice is raw and throaty, (sometimes resembling Patti Smith's), while Saliers' is sweet and smooth. Ray strums hard while Saliers deftly plucks the lead tune. Ray is the dark woman; Saliers is light. Like yin and yang, the women complement each other in a perfect two-part harmony, never missing a beat, always on pitch, looking as if they enjoy every moment. Between songs they talk and joke with the audience.

They sang tunes from all three of their albums - ``Hey, Jesus,'' and ``Land of Canaan,'' from their first album, (``Strange Fire,'' 1987), ``Closer to Fine,'' ``Prince of Darkness,'' ``Love's Recovery,'' and ``Blood and Fire,'' from their smash 1988 album, ``Indigo Girls,'' which certified gold (selling more than 500,000 copies) and earned the duo a Grammy for ``Best Contemporary Folk Group'' in 1989.

From their most recent album, the women sang ``Pushing the Needle Too Far,'' about living too fast in these times; ``You and Me and the 10,000 Wars,'' with its lovely line ``A moment of peace is worth every war behind it,'' and ``The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands,'' about reaching out to people who are lonely.

Natives of Georgia, Saliers and Ray met in grade school, started singing together in high school, and took the name Indigo Girls during their undergraduate days at Emory University in Atlanta. Other Georgians who have helped with their career are members of rock band R.E.M., who have joined the duo on several songs on their last two albums.

AS the show came to an end, the girls sang a version of Bob Dylan's ``All Along the Watchtower,'' that would make its songwriter proud. They closed with the audience all standing, singing in full chorus of the Youngbloods' peace-nik '60s classic: ``Come on people now, smile on your sister/brother, Everybody get together try to love one another right now.'' (Indigo girls also made a video of this song with the Georgia-based ``Habitat for Humanity,'' a nonprofit housing project.)

After the show, fans were abuzz with praise and a tinge of sadness that the show was over. Some commented that they liked best the band's honesty and their courage to discuss religious questions.

``They sing about things I think about - religion, helping the world, telling the truth,'' says one fan.

``It's a religious experience. They are so honest, in their words and music, and so uncorrupted by how big they've become,'' says Theresa Nash, from Somerville, Mass. ``They haven't changed at all from the way they were in the beginning.''

``I like the acoustic guitars,'' says another fan. ``It's a refreshing change from most modern music.''

Backstage, a bevy of young women eagerly waited to meet the band. Finally Emily Saliers appeared, in the sneakers and jeans she wore during the show. Signing autographs, Saliers carefully asked each fan how to spell her name. The young women stared in admiration, standing so close to the one they are used to seeing only on an album cover.

Dodging compliments, Saliers countered, ``Hey, you guys were so great tonight. You made us so good. Thank you for coming.''

Indigo Girls wrap up their Midwest tour in these cities: Grand Rapids, Mich. tonightfeb13; South Bend, Ind., Feb. 14; Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 15; and Cincinnati, Feb. 16.

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