Indigo Girls played Zellerbach Hall on the Berkeley Campus last night. I’ll share the comments of a few concert-goers, from the end of the concert:
“We love you! We love you!”
The Girls; you might say they’re popular.
“Up on the watershed/ standing at a fork in the road.”
On my own, I would not have considered driving to Berkeley (“on a school night?”) after work to see a concert, but the idea came from Terry Weyna, author of the blog Reading the Leaves (http://readingtheleaves.com/) and member of my writers’ group. Terry did all the coordination, getting the tickets and even making dinner reservations at a place called Venus on Shattuck. Terry lives in Belmont. Theoretically, and in fact, mileage-wise, Berkeley is about halfway between our respective homes. At first we were going to meet at the restaurant, but since The Other Change of Hobbit bookstore (http://www.otherchangeofhobbit.com/) is about three blocks away, we thought we would try to meet there, about 5:30.
So I sailed down southbound 101, virtually traffic free (I’m not bragging, I’m just saying) and turned onto Shattuck about 4:45 pm. Smooth sailing could have ended there because of the stress and trauma of parking. I was already feeling anxious about driving in city traffic, but there weren’t that many cars and I did all right, only dropped into hyperventilation a couple of times. I found a place on Durant, one block up from the restaurant.
Berkeley is a pretty town and this is the area with lots of bookstores—fewer than the golden age of Cody’s and Black Oak, but still good. I walked past Pegasus Books on the way down to Shattuck. Other Change of Hobbit and Half-Price Books are about three storefronts apart, and one of those storefronts is a comic book store called Comic Relief. There are also colorful buildings, colorful people, wonderful architecture and these places where you can look down the street and see the gleaming silver water of the bay. You can also get aggressively pan-handled. Since I apparently was wearing my “I’m a Tourist” T-shirt (What gave me away? The gawking? The squinting at addresses?) pan-handlers actually veered away from other targets to approach me.
Terry, of course, had the reverse commute, and traffic was terrible. She made it to the bookstore about ten to six, during which time I had purchased two Thomas Disch books and been entertained by the antics of the store’s two Siamese cats. The store is typical city shop space—long, narrow, shelves to the ceilings. It was slightly disrupted because they were reorganizing a couple of sections, but it was still completely navigable. A stack of the Miles Vorkosigan series, in mass market paperback, leered at me when I walked in, and I was tempted to get one of the omnibus collections I don’t have, but I was strong. This time.
“We’re lookin’ for illegal immigrants, can we check your car?
I said, I think maybe we were on the same boat, back in 1694.”
I had Venus confused with Café Med, which is on Telegraph (but I bet it’s on the same
meridian parallel as Venus!). This narrow, brick-walled café features organic, sustainable, really good food. I looked at my word count here and decided I will devote another post to Venus’s food. I will say, however, that while I was in the bathroom, our waiter told Terry that the Indigo Girls had catered their dinner from there.
While I was in the bathroom I noticed this nice statue they had. It was draped with twinkle lights. It was of a woman stepping out of a clamshell, very classical looking, hair strategically placed. I thought, “Oh, they have a statue of Venus. That’s nice.” No, I really did. And then a second later I thought, “Doh!”
From Venus, we walked a few blocks up Bancroft to Zellerbach Hall. Hall parking was already full, and a diverse crowd was gathering. At the box office, not to my complete surprise, I ran into Bob Matteucchi, who works there. The Sig-O and I have known Bob for years, from boy scouts. It was great running into him! He looked great. He’s still living in Santa Rosa, he said, and making the commute, which isn’t as bad as he had expected.
Then, in we went.
“I’m not an ordinary monster. I’m a legendary beast.”
So there’s this guy opening for them, his name’s Matt Morris. The lights go down, the house, only about three-quarters filled at this time, gets quiet. After a few minutes this slender guy in gray jeans and a soft-crowned white hat walks out. He’s holding a guitar. He walks to the mike and launches into a traditional folk song. He has a smooth, trained tenor voice and amazing range. I don’t think he played guitar on that one. He played a song called, “I Need Forgiveness, Tonight,” and one called “Money,” which would be a nice companion piece to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Greed.”
He sounds like a country-boy, commenting more than once on how great it was to play a hall like Zellerbach. He meant the awesome acoustics. He’s from Denver, so that country-boy thing is obviously cultivated. He says that he likes California. He got married in San Francisco, “back when I could.” (Cheers, whistles from this marriage-equality crowd).
He does a kind of jazz-blues thing, and then talks about an album he has coming out in September. On it, he does a song with Patti Griffith. Yeah, I know. He sang that song, “Bloodline.” Here’s my prediction; as a duet with Patti, this will be a breakout hit.
He talks about having the experience of getting married in San Francisco and leaving that to fly to Oklahoma for a funeral. From being accepted, embraced, to being Other, he says, “In the space of a flight.”
“This is a song I wrote about that experience.” And he plays “Ordinary Monster.”
He ends with an intriguing metaphysical/philosophical song about religion and reincarnation; with lyrics like “I twice brought the world to its knees, once with love and once with greed.” Powerful song that I would have to hear again.
Matt played for about 45 minutes. There was an intermission, during with the hall completely filled. A few minutes after nine, the Indigo Girls came out.
“He graded my performance, he said he could see through me. I spent four years prostrate the Higher Mind, got my paper and I was free.”
It was the two of them and their keyboardist Julie. In the first ten minutes (three songs) they changed instruments twice. In addition to powerful message music, compelling lyrics, exquisite melodies and limpid harmonies, Amy and Emily have virtuosity with any American fretted instrument. I don’t know how they’d do with a balalaika or a mazurka, but anything else is in their arsenal. I didn’t see an ukulele last night, but I bet they could play one.
They played several songs from the new album, and lots of old, old songs, including one of my favorites, an obscure piece called “Kid Fears.” Amy got out her black guitar and did a solo on Mark Knoefler’s “Romeo.” Amy putting on her black guitar is like an actor putting on a leather jacket and flipping up the collar; you know it’s going to be badass, and it’s going to rock.
“Are you on fire?”
They said they found out a friend of theirs was playing Berkeley also and they invited her out onto the stage. Michelle Malone. So this skinny girl comes out, rippling brown hair, wearing a guitar, says, “Hi, Y’all,” in her best southern manner. She’s playing at the Café de Noir, I think she says, later that very night. “Y’all come by.” At this point she practically bats her eyelashes, and goes, “I didn’t know what to play so I thought I’d do a little southern love song. Just a love song—is that okay with y’all?” The crowd immediately communicates to her that it is, indeed, okay. “Yeah, just a little hit-and-run love song.”
And she slams into this fuel-injected kickass Texas rock-and-roll riff, bluesy, fast, riveting, and starts to sing in a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice, some words I can’t even get but which might have been, “scream all night,” and she means it in the good way. And then, she starts playing faster! I was waiting to see sparks trail from her fingers. I told Terry she must be a mutant, the X-files kind of mutant. She has a new record coming out soon also.
The Girls played for two solid hours.
They are at home with their audiences, because of course their fans know every lyric. Indigo Girl fans are devoted. The energy feed-back loop that is the mark of a good performance should have been registering on California’s energy grid.
Because they’re lesbians who are married (they’re been together 30 years next January), and because a few years ago they devoted a large part of their website to marriage equality, some people pigeon-hole the Girls as “just” gay rights activists. At last night’s concert, though, they introduced people from Amnesty International, and they did a food drive for the Berkeley food bank. They’re not just gay rights activists, they’re human rights activists.
“What would you give for your kid fears?”
When the concert was over we made our way outside into a clear, pleasant May evening. I wasn’t wearing a jacket or sweater. Didn’t need one. We walked to my car. The plan was for me to drop Terry off at her parking garage on Addison, but I missed the turn, so I unceremoniously dumped her at a McDonald’s on University. Don’t look at me that way; I slowed the car down before I did it!
I don’t go to a lot of concerts. I usually think I’m too tired, or it’s too much trouble or something. Then I go to one and I wonder why I don’t go more. And then I get home, and it’s 1:00 AM, my throat hurts from screaming, there’s still that not-quite-mosquito-pitched whining in my ears, and I know that I have to go to work sometime the next day. And I still wonder why I don’t go more.