Buffalo's emergence from decades of doldrums appears to be in stride with Kleinhans Music Hall and its primary resident, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, which opened its five-part "BPO Rocks" series of collaborations Friday night with a rapturously received visit from Georgia-bred folk-rockers the Indigo Girls.
Kleinhans' hosting of more mainstream concerts at the recently renovated National Historic Landmark, and this specific BPO series, mark a welcome resurgence for the architects of what was reported to be the first fully shared concert by a rock group and symphony orchestra, when the Grateful Dead donated their services for a collaborative BPO benefit in 1970.
As for the Indigo Girls, their seven-city symphony tour reportedly drew fervent fans from across the country and as far away as Australia, who didn't quite fill Kleinhans' 2,800-plus seats but did often take to their feet on the newly exposed and concrete floors, a refurbishing meant to restore the venue's original sound quality. It's difficult to imagine improving the renowned sound of the venue, nor it sounding much louder than the response given to the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, who have now been performing together for more than a quarter-century.
High school friends Ray and Saliers write their own songs with differing approaches, arranging them together on the strength of their dynamic and intuitive harmonies, which are evident in every song. In handing the duties of arranging their songs for symphonies individually to two in-demand artists – Syracuse native Sean O'Loughlin and Austinite Stephen Barber – Ray and Saliers have enabled a revelation of the layers of sound able to fit fluidly into their songs. The BPO was plenty able to deliver this depth behind them.
Beginning with Saliers, the duo alternated lead vocal duties while providing harmony for each other throughout.
"Love of Our Lives" displayed Saliers' lilting and uplifting approach, for which the adoring audience broke into applause as soon as the final chorus closed, before the song was even over.
"Sugar Tongue" showed Ray's softer side, bringing to the forefront touches on tympani, heavenly harp, and splendid strings – though her bite would soon be revealed.
Saliers' "Feed and Water the Horses," off the duo's 13th and most recent studio album, "Queen Baby Sister," showed clearly how open their sound is to a symphony – sophisticated melodies and emotional chord changes offered ample space for adept arrangement, as Ray turned back to the BPO to join conductor Matthew Kraemer in leading their echo of her lead mandolin part at the song's coda.
The shared joy between Kraemer, Ray, Saliers and their fans was evident throughout – from the crowd applauding at the end of nearly every chorus of Saliers' "Power of Two"; to Ray's complete command of a "Chickenman" that culminated in series of crescendos; to the first set's defining moment, as Saliers smiled while looking out to a crowd singing "Galileo" in step as Ray, facing the BPO, bounced to the beat they brought, in the end earning a standing ovation to close the first set.
By the end of the second set, the house kept clamoring for so long that someone had to come out to tell them the show was over.
Quite a kickoff – indeed, the BPO rocks.
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Part of the BPORocks concert series. Friday evening in KleinhansMusic Hall, Symphony Circle.