“Sorry it took us so long to get here,” quips the auburn-framed Amy Ray midway through the Indigo Girls’ performance at Sheffield’s Leadmill. “We had some crazy belief that it was a lot more difficult to get to England than it actually was.”
Indeed, fans of the Atalanta folk duo – consisting of Ray and blonde-topped best friend Emily Sailers – could be forgiven for thinking that the pre-eminent LGBT icons had soured on transatlantic touring; their South Yorkshire show comes during their first visit to the UK since 2009. But it is to a heroic welcome they return, with a honey-dipped show of classic cuts and naked emotion that is almost spiritual in its unifying strength.
There is little in the way of staging to distract from what is essentially a solo show from the pair; purple and aquamarine-hued lights aside, the presentation is as stark as their arrangements. It’s intimately efficient; with no frills or distraction, Ray and Sailers – playing numerous instruments from acoustic to banjo via ukulele and intermittently accompanied by support act Lucy Wainwright Roche – weave a hypnotic tapestry of various genre inflections across their set, from the West Coast-tinted It’s Alright through Get Out the Map’s jerky country twang.
They tap into bluegrass on a mournful Gone Again with the same chameleonic panache that they deliver the Southern-splashed soft rock of Fill It Up Again. Their songs don’t strictly lead to showboating musical skills – but when Sailers jerks bolts of noise from her electric guitar during the snarling, down-and-dirty Go, it elicits some of the biggest cheers of the night.
For a group over 30 years into a storied career, both women are in strong voice too; the mellifluous harmonies they weave around a triumphant Galileo are possessed of a hymnal quality honed over the decades. But it is the warmth with which they regard each other that sells their act more than just the music; when Ray breaks out an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday for her partner’s 54th, complete with cake and candles, Sailers is genuinely touched by the gesture. “It’s pretty small though, so I don’t think there’s enough to go round,” she dryly notes.
Perhaps no gateau for their audience then – but as they close up the evening with a singalong rendition of signature song Closer to Fine, there’s hope that this twosome might come around again before eight years have passed again.