Georgia's Indigo Girls have issued several live albums over the last three decades: Back on the Bus, Y'All in 1991, 1200 Curfews in 1995, and Staring Down the Brilliant Dream in 2010. In each case, these women were trying to close aesthetic chapters while simultaneously opening new ones. Since leaving Epic, the duo have taken to pushing at the core of their root sound without unmooring it from a folk-rock foundation. In 2012, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers began a collaboration with orchestrators Sean O'Loughlin and Stephen Barber that resulted in Indigo Girls playing 50 North American concerts backed by massive 64-piece orchestras, delivering a seamless meld of folk, rock, pop, and classical that at once added elements of cinematic drama to new dimensions of color and texture.
This 22-track set cut in a single evening in Boulder delivers something quite unexpected: it's not only unpolished, it's downright raw, crackling. The duo are stretched to the breaking point by the intensity this new setting injects into their songs. These renderings are far from the usual neat, tidy, folk-music-with-orchestra affairs that usually underscore pop-meets-classical outings. While staples such as "Closer to Fine," "Galileo," and "Power of Two" are deeply satisfying in this context, deep cuts such as "War Rugs" and "Go" sound brand-new. Other highlights include the faux tango presentation of "Sugar Tongue," a taut, nearly baroque reading of "Virginia Woolf" (which may become the new standard version), and the taut, widescreen arrangement that frames "Chickenman," with brass, timpani, and glockenspiel acting as dramatic foils. Trina Shoemaker's mix keeps the warts-and-all performances intact -- sans stage banter. (How many times do you have to hear that anyway?) This includes not disguising the fact that Saliers' voice was not at its best -- it was borderline hoarse and quivering -- yet she remains right up front with Ray, pouring everything she has into these songs (check "Damo"), resulting in what amounts to a near heroic feat of rock & roll passion. While each Indigo Girls live album has its proper evolutionary place in their catalog, this is a radical reinterpretation of the material that reveals not only how well it has aged, but also that the duo's aspirations for it remain restless, underscoring its continued relevance.