A mix of genders and generations Review: Judging by the range of music presented in the two-day concert at Merriweather, Lilith Fair is offering ample evidence that there's more to 'women's music' than the stereotypes suggest.

July 20, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Lilith Fair bills itself as "a celebration of women in music," mostly to draw attention to the femininity of the artists it features. And the lineup that played Lilith at the Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday certainly had its share of well-known women musicians, what with Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant and the Indigo Girls topping the bill.

But by the time the 7 1/2 hour concert drew to a close with a full-cast performance of "What's Going On," a word change seemed in order. Because between the joyous, playful mood of the performers and the jovial nature of the largely female crowd, the festival came across not as a celebration of women in music, but a celebration with women in music.

Best of all, Lilith Fair achieved all that without ever seeming limited or doctrinaire. If anything, it seemed out to undo stereotypes about "women's music," offering a lineup that was so musically and culturally diverse that gender was quite literally the only thing the artists had in common.

The audience was equally varied. Although many of the 18,000 attending were young, white and female, that group neither dominated nor defined the crowd. There were a healthy number of males onhand (and not just as dates), and a number of Asian- and African-Americans as well. Most impressive of all was the diversity in age, as concert attendees ranged from babes in arms to women in their '50s.

Granted, Lilith did have its political side. A dollar from each ticket was earmarked for local women's charities, and before Saturday's show, McLachlan -- Lilith's organizer and founder -- presented a check for $18,000 to My Sister's Place in Washington, and another for $14,500 to Baltimore's House of Ruth. (House of Ruth would get additional money if remaining lawn seats for yesterday were sold.)

There were also a number of feminist and political organizations represented in the peddlers' village, including Voters for Choice, the Breast Cancer Fund, and the rape support group RAINN. But the best thing about the peddlers' village was the village stage, which offered an intimate look at three up-and-coming acts, including Washington's Dead Girls and Other Stories. (Baltimore's Love Riot played yesterday.)

Kacy Crowley offered a spirited acoustic set, highlighted by a feisty rendition of "Hand to Mouthville," but it was Canadian Emm Gryner who seemed the day's greatest discovery. A strong writer and accomplished pianist, her singing had such emotional and melodic appeal that she was able to make songs like "Phonecall 45" and "Acid" seem instantly familiar -- even though her debut album, "Public," won't be released until tomorrow.

There was a larger, second stage on the left side of the lawn, and its acts were louder and more aggressive. Holly McNarland set the tone, fronting a raucous, four-piece band, and came on with enough musical muscle and vocal drama to have put her on par with the likes of Live. Rebekah followed, asking the audience, "Who came here to party?" and providing the perfect soundtrack through such tuneful rockers as "Genius" and "Sin So Well."

Morcheeba, by contrast, went for deep groove. Easily the tightest band on the bill, this English sextet suggested what Rufus might have sounded had that band drawn from acid jazz instead of funk.

Of the main stage acts, Liz Phair was probably the most eagerly anticipated, if only because four years have passed since her last album and tour. To her credit, she seemed stronger and more confident than ever, playing a mix of fan favorites ("Supernova," "Never Said") and songs from her upcoming album, "White Chocolate Space Egg."

The Indigo Girls alternated between crisp, punchy hits (including a lovely "Least Complicated" and a crowd-pleasing "Closer to Fine") and lengthy instrumental extrapolations. Could the former folk duo be on its way to becoming a jam band?

Missy Elliott, by contrast, emphasized showmanship, offsetting the relentless stomp of her rhythm section with elaborate costumes -- including the black balloon dress from her video for "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" -- and intricate choreography.

Natalie Merchant's set was charmingly off-hand, so casual that she tossed off a version of the Gershwin classic "But Not for Me," then turned to her pianist and said, "We should do that song some time." But her low-key approach belied her total command of the material, bringing a vivid sense of character to "Jealousy," and turning "Kind & Generous" into a personal expression of gratitude.

Sarah McLachlan closed the show, as she always does at Lilith. But where her performance last year showed her to be a singer on the cusp of stardom, Saturday's show found her a full-blown phenomenon. From the gentle humor of "Ice Cream" to the soaring refrain of "Adia," she had the audience hanging on her every note. Yet through it all, she maintained such a sense of connectedness with the crowd that no matter how much more brightly she shined, she made it clear that Lilith was our show, too.

Pub Date: 7/20/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.