[the sea of waking dreams]

Lilith Fair '99 Gets Canadian Kick Off

Women's music fest begins its third and final year in Vancouver

A lot has changed since the first Lilith Fair tour three years ago. Teenage girls are in charge of the world's economy, the Rev. Jerry Falwell has condemned the annual music festival, and the word "Lilith" has become synonymous with a kind of kitty-pettin', aromatherapy-sniffin', Birkenstock-wearin' idea of femininity.

Any one of these changes might be enough to inspire organizers to put the kibosh on the yearly tour. But at a press conference just prior to the start of this latest forty-date tour, founder Sarah McLachlan insisted that, by ending it this year, she is simply sticking by an earlier manifesto.

Judging from the first day of the tour at Vancouver's Thunderbird Stadium on July 8, McLachlan may be right to pull the plug. Any good Lilith was going to accomplish -- i.e., proving there is a large audience for music from female musicians -- has been done; to continue is to risk self-parody, more accusations of greed, Letterman punchlines and -- heaven forbid -- a Weird Al Yankovic song.

This didn't seem to be the case at first, when Luscious Jackson took to the main stage in late afternoon under a cloudless sky. The band's funky urban pop tweaked the already happy, sunny vibe of rain-weary Vancouverites, who were as smilingly dazed as if this was the sun's first appearance since Labor Day. The New York band's swirling keyboards, funk-for-every-occasion guitar and trashcan-bashing drums were like inner city graffiti come to free-flowing, brilliantly-hued life.

In all fairness, Mya -- who has all of one album and a duet with Pras to her credit -- didn't have a chance following performing/recording vets Luscious Jackson. But the eighteen-year-old nevertheless gave an energetically cheesy show, complete with a Pras-less "Ghetto Superstar," backup singers and professional dancers, snippets of old Jackson 5 tunes, a mid-set tap dance, audience members dancing onstage -- in short, everything but the soul.

Canadian singer Deborah Cox rattled a few fillings with her powerful, glass-shattering voice. Cox benefited from a smooth backing band and much stronger material than Mya, but the white-clad (tank top and vinyl pants) performer was also undeniably all about the benjamins, singing shamelessly radio-friendly R&B and boasting about how her gospel-tinged single "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" had spent a record amount of time at the top of the charts.

It was up to Sheryl Crow to get the festival back on its legs. When deciding to take this gig, she must have realized someone was going to have to bring the noise, and it might as well be her. With this in mind, she and her five-piece band knocked out furious versions of jagged little pills like "Anything But Down," "If It Makes You Happy" and "Am I Getting Through (Part I & II)." A Hammond-fueled "Every Day Is a Winding Road" and the whimsical "A Change" provided some lighter moments, while her unnecessary, string-sweetened cover of Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine" prompted many of the 16,000 attendees to add their voices to the anthem-turned-soundtrack fodder.

The sun was disappearing behind the stage when McLachlan strode forth. She was greeted by delighted shrieks from the teenage fans crowding the stage who moments before had been chanting her name with near-religious awe. What followed was an intermittently pretty, dreamy and ultimately sleep-inducing set of tracks from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and her most recent studio album, the three-year-old Surfacing. McLachlan appeared confident and happy to be onstage after a nine-month absence, but the lack of new material -- along with the seams of the old -- is starting to become painfully obvious. Of course, try telling this to the young women singing along with every song or tearfully embracing during the unabashedly sentimental "I Will Remember You."

The set ended with a solo piano version of the popular ballad "Angel." As with previous Lilith Fair tours, McLachlan then left the stage only to return a few minutes later with several other mainstage singers who sang along on the vintage gospel pop ditty "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." The pleasant, up-with-people number seemed about as inspired as McLachlan's set and Mya's bubblegum R&B, and perfectly epitomized this year's Lilith Fair: fitfully enjoyable, smugly self-satisfied and running out of ideas.

(July 9, 1999)

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