It was clear from the get-go that the crowd at Plush on Saturday night was there to see Amy Ray, from the demographic of the audience--which skewed slightly older and, let's say, had a certain "Sapphic flair"--to the politely bored chattiness with which they greeted Jennifer O'Connor's performance. Which is fair enough: O'Connor isn't a household name--yet--and certainly doesn't have the kind of nostalgic cult appeal of Ray, whose band, the Indigo Girls, made her a lesbian icon. If you search her on Wikipedia, you get an entry on Jennifer O'Connor, the Australian netball player. (Note to Jennifer's Matador reps: Fix that issue, pronto--she's the only one of Matador's currently active performers without an entry.)
All of which is a shame, because O'Connor is a wonderful artist. Her songs drip with a wistful Americana--think early Tom Petty--that's filtered through a sometimes slightly riot grrl-y delivery, which is more pronounced live than on her recordings. Most of her set came off her latest release, the extremely listenable Here With Me, and she and her band sounded great.
Even though the lush, haunting softness of the first half of "Landmine" almost got lost under the distractingly conversational audience, the song's feedback-drenched crescendo gave everyone pause, and made them pay attention to catchy could-be hits like the excellent "Daylight Out" (though the live version felt a bit thin without the album's lead guitar part driving the melody), "Credit in the Cost" and the fun, poppy "Lightbulb."
The vibe shifted noticeably once Ray and her band--made up of former Butchies members and Greg Griffith, producer of Ray's latest, Didn't It Feel Kinder--took the stage. The crowd hooted and hollered appreciatively, and Ray graciously complimented the loveliness of the Sonoran Desert. Guitarist Kaia Wilson even chimed in, "We saw a roadrunner today!"
But between-song banter was kept to a minimum as the band churned through a set that delivered a large helping of the skronky rock 'n' roll Ray's been delivering in her solo career. Her persona live is one of a very sweet and considerate person who is also a bit pissed off, and the crowd loved and responded best to that edge, as on "Blame Is a Killer" and "SLC Radio," where the crowd actually sang along with the lines "I'm not here to fuck the family."