It's the music, not the message Review: Alanis Morissette delivers a solid performance that doesn't play to teen angst or anger.

August 24, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

According to the conventional wisdom, the key to the Alanis Morissette phenomenon is teen-age girls. Angry teen-age girls, to be specific. They're the ones, insist the pundits, who have pushed Morissette's album, "Jagged Little Pill," up the charts, and who have packed every show on Morissette's current tour. It's not about music, they say, but rage and gender.

L And, as usual, the conventional wisdom has it exactly wrong.

As Morissette made clear at the Merriweather Post Pavilion Thursday night, music is very much the key to her popularity. Certainly, there were a lot of young women in the audience, and sure, many of them no doubt take Morissette's lyrics as an affirmation of their own feelings. But what they came for was a rousing rock show -- and that was precisely what they got.

From the moment she stormed onstage, honking a harmonica as her band vamped on the intro to "All I Really Want," Morissette was in complete command. There was nothing showy or contrived about the way she worked the crowd; indeed, there was something endearingly gawky about her stage moves, like the way she would flutter her left hand, shaking it as if it were wet, when leaning into a particularly charged lyric.

But even her physical charm took a back seat to her voice. fTC Morissette may not be a vocal virtuoso in the Whitney Houston sense of the term, but she's definitely a powerhouse. She delivered "Right Through You" with such vividness that each put-down felt like a slap, then capped "Not the Doctor" with a display of vocal exuberance that ran from a broken yodel to a giddy semi-scat break.

She wasn't afraid of taking chances with her material, either. In some cases, that was simply a matter of adjusting the tone of her performance, playing off the band's shifting dynamics to bring added drama to "Perfect," or infusing "Mary Jane" with the sort of earnest intensity normally reserved for country ballads.

Some songs, though, were almost totally reinvented. "You Learn," for instance, was given an amped-up, metal-edged funk feel that was not only more aggressive than the album version, but found the band detouring into a demented 3/4 groove before Morissette joined her drummer for a bit of cymbal-bashing. It was a stunning performance, illuminating the potential of Morissette's musical ability, and underscoring the fact that she's a strong enough singer to carry her audience in any direction she wants.

Opening the show was Radio- head, a British quintet whose sterling performance raised the question: "Why aren't these guys big stars over here?"

Although most bands at the bottom of the bill on a tour like this have to fight for the attention of listeners making their way to their seats, Radiohead had relatively little trouble turning the crowd into an attentive and enthusiastic audience. It helped that the band's short set made much of such MTV-fare as "Creep" and "High and Dry," but the richly detailed arrangements and gorgeously impassioned singing turned even lesser-known tunes like "Just" into crowd-pleasers.

Alanis Morissette and Radiohead perform tonight at the Nissan Pavilion in Manassas. Call (410) 481-7328 for tickets.

Pub Date: 8/24/96

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