Alas and alack, Alanis a little lacking Buzz: In a Washington, D.C., club, the rock star turned into Mumbles Morissette while teasing fans with unknown music and sometimes unintelligible lyrics from her new CD.

October 29, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Seeing a big star like Alanis Morissette playing a tiny club is a fan's dream come true.

Seeing a big star like Alanis Morissette playing a tiny club when you don't know most of the songs is a little less than dreamy, and that was the situation facing some 500 fans at Washington's 9: 30 Club on Tuesday.

Wearing a red satin dress under a sheer, black T-shirt with a scene from Chinese mythology embroidered across the chest, Morissette took the stage to tumultuous applause.

But as her band muscled through the dark, semi-industrial pulse of "Baba," the crowd's enthusiasm melted into a mixture of curiosity and confused excitement.

Sure, it was great to be there. But what the heck was she singing?

"Baba," like most of what Morissette performed, is from her as-yet-unreleased new album, "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie."

Of the evening's 18 tunes, only a third were culled from her 1995 debut, the multi-platinum "Jagged Little Pill."

Moreover, many of the oldies had been radically rearranged.

In place of the original version's fury, "You Oughta Know" was stripped down to metronomic bass and atmospheric guitar noises, while "Right Through You" turned into a full-band jam that had Morissette improvising new words and music.

So even though the capacity crowd was clearly happy to be there, it didn't go into a full frenzy until four songs into her set, when she picked up a harmonica and charged into her 1995 hit, "Hand In My Pocket."

And so it went, with the unfamiliar songs receiving warm (but hardly overwhelming) applause, while the old favorites were greeted with cheers, whistles and much singing along.

All of which raises the question: Why would Morissette tease her fans with unknown new songs when she could have pleased them with hits?

Because the mini-tour that brought her to Washington was intended not as a crowd-pleaser, but as a buzz-builder. In other words, the whole idea was to get people excited about Alanis again, so that when "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" turns up in stores on Nov. 3, there will be long lines of fans waiting to grab copies.

Judging from the response she garnered Tuesday, Morissette won't have a hard time keeping the old fans. Although there was nothing as angrily cathartic as "You Oughta Know" among the new numbers, the "Infatuation Junkie" songs found her continuing to wrestle with bad relationships and emotional consequences.

"Sympathetic Character," for instance, opened with a verse in which a former flame is told, "I have as much rage as you have/I have as much pain as you do " as the music slowly gathered momentum.

Then there was "Are You Still Mad," in which Morissette paged through the complaints of a former lover as her band churned, Led Zeppelin-like, behind her.

There may have been more, of course, but it was often hard to make out just what, exactly, Morissette was singing.

Some of that muddle may have had to do with the sound system, which favored the guitars and Chris Chaney's booming, dub-style bass over the vocals.

The third song, "Would Not Come," was greeted by shouts of "Turn up the vocals!" -- but Morissette herself was also partly to blame.

"This is a song called '[mumble-mumble] Hoping,' " she said, introducing "I Was Hoping." "It was inspired by [mumble-mumble-mumble]."

Well, that explains the camping reference in the third verse, doesn't it?

Still, the music came through even if the words didn't, and on that level, Morissette's new material was largely convincing.

In fact, there were moments -- as during Nick Lashley's searing guitar solo at the end of "Uninvited" -- when the music seemed almost too big for a room the size of the 9: 30 Club.

In that sense, seeing a big star like Alanis Morissette playing a tiny club may be less satisfying than catching her at a coliseum. Ironic, don'tcha think?

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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