No Man's Land

Indigo Girls' Suffragette Sessions

Park West - Chicago

August 26, 1998

First Appeared in The Music Box, October 1998, Volume 5, #10

Written by John Metzger


The Indigo Girls pulled together a 12-date tour called the Suffragette Sessions that blended elements of the Lilith Fair with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. Where Lilith Fair is a successful, but carefully contrived, pop festival, the Suffragette Sessions tour proved to be casual, loose, inspired, and downright raw.  The caravan pulled into Chicago for two shows on August 25 and 26. Originally scheduled for The Riviera, the concerts were moved to the more intimate Park West.

The Sessions featured a diverse group of female artists that took the stage simultaneously, allowing them to collaborate on each other's songs. The tour was masterminded by the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, but also included Lisa Germano, Jane Siberry, Luscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach, The Breeders' Josephine Wiggs, Mecca Normal's Jean Smith, Come's Thalia Zedek, Lourdes Perez, and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. "The tour is a socialist experiment in rock 'n roll," said the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray. "The idea is to gather a bunch of musicians from different musical genres who are relatively unfamiliar with each other, and see what happens."

The concept seemed to baffle promoters and a sizeable portion of the audience who chose to scream out for the most popular Indigo Girls' songs. On August 26, the group thankfully refused to yield to the popular mind-set. This allowed each performer to take a moment in the spotlight, and the collective created an intriguing display of inspired collaborations.

Ray and Saliers remained relatively low-key the entire evening, but they were clearly the glue that held it all together. Their voices added subtly sweet harmonies to many of the songs performed, and their energy-level helped to lift this risky adventure high off the ground.

Perez sang a pair of beautiful ballads in Spanish, which were complemented perfectly by the guitar picking of Saliers. Perez totally captivated the audience with her stunningly exquisite voice. When asked what her first song was about, she replied, "I have life in my hands as a consequence of being a woman. I have life in my hands as a consequence of being human."

Dorsey acted as the evening's master of ceremonies, a privilege that rotated from person to person over the course of the tour. Her soft-spoken introductions were dramatically countered by her powerful voice and her radiantly vigorous bass playing.

Smith added a spoken word poem that captured the spirit of Jim Morrison, though it was obviously delivered from a female perspective. Ray provided an eerie electric guitar presence and Siberry's keyboards conjured spirits and ghosts. It's no wonder that later in the evening, Ray referred to this evening's show as the "spooky setlist."

Two Chicagoans were dubbed honorary Suffragettes for the evening. Rose Polenzani took the stage first, accompanied by Zedek on clarinet, for a sparse, ethereal ballad. Kelly Hogan, a long-time friend of the Indigo Girls, made an appearance as well, adding her smooth, but powerful voice to a country-influenced song.

The set concluded with a re-vamped rendition of the Indigo Girls' Power of Two. Instead of a folk ballad, the song was revved-up with adrenaline, yet it contained a central bridge recast as a slow waltz.

The three-song encore featured a tune from Siberry that allowed her to express her vocal talent. Her voice soared la Joni Mitchell, while Ray textured the song with the sound of her mandolin. A perfect rendition of Midnight Train to Georgia closed out the evening, as Dorsey carried the chorus with passionate grace.

Buffalo Daughter, from Tokyo, opened the show with a 40-minute set of mesmerizing music. Most of the trio's songs were performed with a biting electric guitar, pounding drum beat, and pulsing, textured electronic keyboards. The result was a rhythmic onslaught of anger and angst. One song featured acoustic guitar, bass, and drums, providing a toned-down sound that was slow and soothing. Their set was clearly the style of music that Sean Lennon drew from for his latest release Into the Sun.

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Copyright 1998 The Music Box