Summer concerts inside -- out

UP FRONT

May 21, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

People like to spend time outside during the summer. That's why outdoor amphitheaters like Pier Six, the Merriweather Post Pavilion and the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge traditionally dominate local concert business during the warm-weather months.

This year, though, some of the season's hottest acts are going indoors. Anyone hoping to catch "Titanic" diva Celine Dion, Led Zeppelin vets Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, R&B superstar Janet Jackson or alternarock heroine Tori Amos better be ready to put up with air conditioning, because these shows will be playing indoors at the recently opened MCI Center in downtown Washington.

"I think our building has attracted a lot of attention because it is a state of the art, one of a kind building right now," says Matt Williams, vice president for communications at the MCI Arena. "It's also an attraction for performers to play in downtown D.C."

Shows currently slated to play the MCI Arena include new-age heartthrob Yanni (June 6); Page and Plant (July 7); Janet Jackson with Usher (July 11); former "Phantom of the Opera" star Michael Crawford (July 18); and Dion (Aug. 26). Amos' Aug. 11th date has been announced, but is not on sale yet.

That's not to say all the big acts are staying inside this summer. The Spice Girls will make their area debut at the Nissan Pavilion on June 21. (In a weird confluence of Girl Power, feminist alterna-folkie Ani DiFranco will be playing just up the road at Wolf Trap that same evening.)

Metallica will be playing the Nissan and Merriweather Post pavilions, on June 28 and July 1, respectively; Days of the New and Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell will open both shows. Teen idolatry will be in full effect July 15, when the Backstreet Boys play the Nissan Pavilion, while extravagant vocalizing will be the order of the day July 26, when Michael Bolton and Wynnona play there.

Phish does its jazz-rock-bluegrass-barbershop fusion thing at Merriweather Aug. 8, while the Dave Matthews Band offers its take on jam-band pop for two nights at the Nissan, Aug. 22-23. And Pearl Jam will bare its alternarock heart at Merriweather on Sept. 18 (tickets are not on sale yet).

Nor will that likely be it for the season's big shows. "There are probably four to six more concert events that we are likely to secure this summer, but they're not contracted, so I'm not at liberty to say what they are," Jean Parker, Merriweather general manager, said. "At least three of them will be major concert events." A Nissan spokesperson also declined comment on coming-but-unconfirmed shows.

Outdoor venues do have the absolute advantage on one front, though: Festivals. And despite the absence of Lollapalooza, these multi-act music feasts might prove to be the biggest draw of the season.

"Festivals . . . really do give fans good value for their dollar," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry trade magazine Pollstar. "The ticket prices aren't much more than a normal three-act show, and instead you're getting a whole day's worth of entertainment."

Already, the summer's most-sought-after ticket is for the Tibetan Freedom Concert at RFK Stadium. With proceeds to benefit the Milarepa Fund, the two-day concert (June 13-14) is intended to ++ raise money -- and consciousness -- in hope of putting an end to Chinese government oppression of Tibetan culture. The concert will be followed by a rally on the Capitol lawn on Monday, June 15, to urge President Clinton to push for negotiations between Beijing and the Dalai Lama.

But it wasn't an interest in Chinese politics that made the concert sell out in six hours -- it was interest in the rockers and rappers listed to play the benefit. The bill is a veritable who's who of alternative rock and hip-hop. Performers will include Beck, the Beastie Boys, R.E.M., Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Live, A Tribe Called Quest, Blues Traveller, Wyclef Jean, the Dave Matthews Band, Pulp, Kraftwerk, Tracy Chapman, Sean Lennon, Sonic Youth, and the Headhunters featuring Herbie Hancock, among others.

Last year, the big buzz was on the Lilith Fair, Sarah McLachlan's free-floating festival of music and femininity. This year's tour might lack the novelty of last year's outing, but that doesn't seem to have dampened its audience's enthusiasm.

This summer, Lilith Fair will spend two days at Merriweather, July 18-19. McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls, Missy Elliott and Liz Phair are the main stage performers, with Morcheeba, Beth Orton and Holly McNarland on the second stage. Village stage performers are Kacy Crowley, Emm Gryner, and two local acts, Dead Girls & Other Stories (July 18), and Love Riot (July 19).

Given the amount of business last year's big festivals did, it's no surprise that this year's concert schedules include festivals of all description, offering everything from rock to R&B to jazz and beyond. Here are some of the more noteworthy:

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