Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Amy Ray at the Visulite

I don’t remember how I heard about Amy Ray’s 2001 solo album, Stag. I wasn’t a fan of the Indigo Girls. In fact I hardly listened to any of their stuff. I must have read a description of the album somewhere and I bought it right when it came out. I even wrote a positive review for it in a local music weekly. I think it was called Indie File. Is that it? Dang, I really don’t remember. I loved the album right from the start. It opened with a vicious song with Amy Ray accompanying herself on the mandolin. It starts out like this:

“Yeah, when I go over yonder
I will see my mother
my sister and my father
but my brother is going to hell.”

Even now, eleven years later, the song has an immediacy and it really grabs you, it’s a great, great opening track. It’s a perfect set up for the slow burn of Laramie. Laramie is inspired the murder of Matthew Shepherd. The strength of the song is that it doesn’t really directly address Shepherd’s murder. It’s about the threat that hangs over anyone who is different is a redneck nation. Like all great poetry it finds its power by working the edges rather than hammering it directly.

In 2004 she released a similar album that was just as good or better called Prom. I love these two albums, I still play them and for the first time I got to see Amy Ray’s rockshow at the Visulite last Friday. I had been waiting a long time. I was wondering as the show approached if I had missed her rockshow coming to Charlotte in all these years or if this would be the first time she had played here with her band. It can be easy to miss a show if you don’t keep up with the listings. I don’t know, but if you judge from the reaction of the crowd and Amy’s apparent surprise by our enthusiasm maybe I wasn’t the only one seeing her with a band for the first time.

My first impression of the show was the power of Amy Ray’s voice. She opened with two songs on the mandolin and she displayed a rich and very strong voice. A voice that stayed strong all night long. She has a talent for letting her voice break at the right moments. It's an effective way to put some extra emotion into a song.

I went to the show not just to see Amy Ray, I went also to see the Butchies. The Butchies were a power trio out of Durham and a few years ago they put a on a fantastic club show at the now defunct Steeple Lounge. I especially enjoyed the crazy drummer, Melissa York. At that show she gave me a high five as they walked off after the first set. I remember being surprised that they were finishing and I said something like, "What, you're done already?!" Melissa, as she was bouncing past me said, "We'll be back out. High five!!" We high fived. What is it about really great drummers being half crazy? The band was hitting all their marks for the whole night, they drove the music when it needed and also knew when to pull it back. One of the nicer moments of the night happened when Amy introduced the band. She said something along the line of, “I want to introduce the band, the Butchies...” and before she could start introducing them individually the crowd started clapping and cheering. It was like we were all saying, “Yeah, we know the Butchies, they’re incredible.” It was nice genuine moment.

Late in the show Amy allowed Kaia Wilson, the guitar player, to sing a song by herself. She sang a loose and funny version of her song When my Hair was Long. I purchased her album Two Adult Women in Love after the show.

The intensity really picked up fairly early in the night with a powerful version of Laramie. The intensity was provided right away by the crowd. You could tell this was a song that was important to many people there. Later in the evening the song Put it out for Good really put a lot of energy in the room. It’s a song for anyone who has ever stood out in someplace it’s not safe to do so.

“I hear the rock show winding down at the high school
Kids out on the sidewalk, waiting for a ride
All the punks and the queers and the freaks and the smokers
Feel like they'll be waiting for the rest of their lives

Alright I hear what you're saying to me
Alright I hear what I just can't do
But I got this spark I got to feed it something
Or put it out for good.”

After a quick encore the show ended with a blazing version of Let it Ring, once again done solo by Amy as she played her mandolin. The song is an answer to right wing people who protest in the streets against gay rights. She played the song right after Melissa York asked the crowd to be sure to vote against the stupid ass (my words) amendment that eventually passed. Melissa was close to tears when she spoke and Amy played the holy hell out of that song and walked off the stage. Amazing.

Amy Ray late in the show
Amy  Ray at the Visulite

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