Lilith Fair or Estrogen Fair
By Jim Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, 07/23/97
MANSFIELD - The two best selling summer package tours? The Ozzfest and the Lilith Fair. The probability of audience overlap between the two: less than zero. The Ozzfest was the sold-out Ozzy Osbourne/metal tour and Lilith is the female-oriented, 35-city, multi-act brainchild of Sarah McLachlan, which played to a sold-out house at Great Woods yesterday. You might have seen the Time feature last week with Jewel beaming on the cover. You know, women in rock ... what a shocker. Call it Galapalooza, gosh darn it!
So, is Lilith an estrogen fest? A packaging gimmick? Well, big boy, before hurling those accusations consider that Ozzfest (not to mention the recent Lollapalooza) was a testosterone-heavy load (with the Ozz's exception being the all-gal Drain S.T.H.). Lilith had no fewer than 26 male musicians who backed up the seven women in the spotlight, the singer-songwriter-stars on the main and second stage. (We missed Lori Carson and Alisha's Attic on the tiny Village Stage.) Ratio of men-to-women on stage: 13-4, with McLachlan's backup singer being the only non-star female up there. Does this say anything about the quality of female musicians out there or the willingness by female stars to employ them? This may be an issue for another day, or even a non-issue in a non-PC, non-affirmative action world. But it could hardly escape notice yesterday.
The music was a mixed bag. Lilith doesn't represent today's "pop woman" any more than the Ozzfest represented today's "rock man." Lilith, at least the version that stopped here (acts shift in and out throughout the tour; no Jewel here), could not be confused with an edge-fest. There were no sights or equivalent sounds of the likes of L7, Hole, Lunachicks, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, or Joan Jett, to name a handful of proto-feminist, in-your-face rockers. (To McLachlan's credit, she says she tried to land some rockers for the fair.) Here, softer voices sang the songs, tried to stir the soul, with mixed success. Juliana Hatfield and Tracy Chapman were at the top of that ladder and the over-emoting, pretentious Paula Cole and Fiona Apple were at the bottom.
Mostly, these were the figurative daughters of James Taylor and Carly Simon, nieces of Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, grandchildren of Joan Baez. Those that carry the soft-rock torch, make few demands and offer comfort not challenge. Who thought we'd be quoting Olivia Newton-John in 1997, but: "Have you never been mellow?" Tuesday, it was a case of forced exposure; if there's anger, you knew it will lead to redemption. McLachlan - the closer, a Canadian Kate Bush-like mystic without the interesting odd angles - even announced the "dark and depressing," she says, "Sweet Surrender" with a story about her wallowing in "ugliness. It feels so good to be on the other side of that. That's where the joy comes." Well, yes.
Give Lilith credit for scheduling the gigs on the second and third stages so as not to clash with the main stage stuff. But the second stage position, on the lawn, at the left as you face the main stage, was odd and caused crowd clogging and conflicted sound. "Terrible, awful," said a member of the Don Law Co.'s promoting team. Victoria Williams turned in a lovely, soft country-ish set and Hatfield churned up the edgiest, most agitated set of the night, including a surprise cover of X's "The Unheard Music. "
On the main stage, Paula Cole showboated her way through overwrought, piano-and-guitar-based mush. Apple, who keeps sporting the Emperor's New Clothes (and showing that belly button!), slinked her way about the stage, loose-limbed and fancy-free. She plays the wide-eyed waif who's been wronged: a sexy, but vapid, vibrato-inclined songstress. Apple is blessed with the gift of being cloying in both bombastic rock and soft piano-voice modes. She sounds so self-absorbed ... well check this: "If I don't faint from lack of oxygen I'm gonna sing another song about myself." As are they all. Her vision extends to her mirror.
The Cardigans, an actual band, offered a minor pop treat: light, semi-flowing Swedish delights spiked by Nina Persson's sly and giddy vocals during "Lovefool." (She twists the object of her affections into a laptop computer at the end.) Chapman started on the warm but bland side, but her set heated up with the still chill-inducing "Fast Car" and a supple, funky "Take Me To the River." She gave off a sense of grace and good vibes. It was up to McLachlan to close the night with her watery post-folk art-rock. She's all about meandering melody and liquid textures. Not unpleasant, but far from commanding.
And now ... the stats:
Ratio of women to men: 3-1 (educated guess).
Ratio of (some converted) women's rooms to men's rooms: 5-1. (Still there were major lines everywhere.)
Best t-shirt sported on a male: (Front) "This White Male Hetero Says ..." (back) Sorry I (Messed) Up the World."
Best female headgear: A dragon.
Song that summed up the heart of it all: Chapman's "Fast Car."
Poster that summed it up: "Getting Her Drunk Isn't the Same as Getting Permission" at the rape awareness booth.
Thanks to Shamir Kanji
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