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Live review: Lilith Fair at Irvine's Verizon Amphitheater*


Rebellion and compromise, dreams and reality -- these were the principles vying for control at Saturday night’s Irvine stop of the troubled Lilith Fair tour.

In a perfect world, the festival headlined by co-founder Sarah McLachlan would be packed with spiritual sisters swaying to the music, nary a corporate sponsor in sight. Alas, despite inevitable concessions to today’s touring necessities and its spotty attendance, Lilith often clambered to a triumphant peak, aloft on the evening’s inspiring range of voices.

Though it was one of the most successful package tours of the '90s, it hasn’t been easy for Lilith this year. The ladypalooza, reemerging after an 11-year-absence, has been hobbled by its own miscalculation of the catatonic summer concert season, resulting in multiple canceled dates and artists such as Norah Jones and Kelly Clarkson pulling out.

Orange County’s roster was solid with McLachlan, silver-haired sage Emmylou Harris, her more commercial protégé Miranda Lambert, and banda vixen Jenni Rivera, though short on the high-wattage punch of other Lilith artists, such as Erykah Badu or Sheryl Crow. But every performer who did grace Lilith’s main stage, including the big, rippling voice of Brandi Carlile, rallied to entertain the audience at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, which was at little over half-capacity.

Settling in for a mild summer evening of towering vocals, the audience was treated to Harris’ exquisite singing on the edge of the abyss. Her songs, such as “The Pearl,” fearlessly reckon with the pain of life and the snatches of joy to be found. She ended with “Calling My Children Home,” crowding around a mike  singing a cappella with her backing band, shearing off her voice like cuts of silk while McLachlan watched beaming from the side.

Starting her set with 10 mariachis strumming traditional banda music, Rivera sauntered out in a purple fishtail dress and a self-possessed but subversive grin that could prove useful in the next nuclear disarmament. The Long Beach native took tequila shots, joked about a certain law in Arizona and veered from traditional Mexican songs such as “Bésame Mucho” to “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” Freddy Fender’s sockhop-cum-Tejano concoction.

Lambert continued in the vein that Rivera had plumbed -- traditional genre music underscored by a rebellious spirit. She made quick work of her hit, “Heart Like Mine,” but she really tore into the muscle of the Faces’ “Stay With Me,” stomping and shimmying around the stage. It was a suitable primer for her rollicking revenge fantasy, “Gunpowder & Lead.”

By the time McLachlan herself took to the stage, she was almost levitating with radiant energy. Lilith Fair proves nothing more than McLachlan’s generosity, her obvious pride in arranging the live music equivalent of Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party.” Playing the piano for “Angel,” she was joined by Harris for a verse, and then she was up, moving her arms in ballet strokes for classic fan favorites, including “Sweet Surrender,” “Building a Mystery” and some new work, such as  the bouncy, '60s pop of “Loving You Is Easy.” The evening’s version of “Ice Cream” was especially sumptuous, with specks of xylophone.

For the festival’s encore, McLachlan and most of Lilith's performers joined together for a rousing rendition of “Because the Night.” It’s a song most associated with its co-writer, Patti Smith, a performer who's often eschewed lady bonds in favor of a more androgynous path of self-expression. But as the women gathered around the still-glowing McLachlan, it was clear that they'd coalesce around the song anyway --  in spite of or maybe because of all its complex significations. Progress, they seemed to say, has many different voices.

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo: Sarah McLachlan performs Saturday night as the final act of Lilith Fair. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

*Updated: The original version of this post didn't mention Brandi Carlile as a mainstage performer.

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Comments () | Archives (8)

I'm surprised that Wappler didn't mention Brandi Carlile's fiery performance that started the main stage concert. Emmylou Harris was actually the second performer on the main stage, not the first. She was terrific, but Brandi Carlile's energy and attitude started the evening off right. She also came back on stage during Miranda Lambert's segment to perform Patsy Cline's "Crazy," which was a highlight of the night.

Also, reviewing Lilith Fair without mentioning the opening acts on the two smaller stages? I get the feeling Wappler was like most of the attendees and skipped most of the early performances. For me the big surprise of the day was seeing the Weepies perform, but I thoroughly enjoyed the more intimate performances before the main stage events.

It wasn't perfect...the festival seemed to screw up the stages, since the solo acts like Molly Jensen and Elizaveta were booked on a huge stage with ample crowd space, whereas the bands like the Weepies and Marina & The Diamonds were on a tiny stage behind merchandise booths and without much space for crowds. Still, it was a great day and I think a lot of the concert-goers had a great time.

This is not meant in the spirit of political INcorrectness that it may seem... but a true and painfully honest assessment of Lilith's struggles has to (I mean, it really MUST) include an acknowledgment of the extent to which it has been swallowed up by lesbians. The brand is ABSOLUTELY SYNONYMOUS with lesbianism. And no honest lesbian would say differently. I attended the first year of Lilith at Jones Beach ('97?) and again this year at Irvine. Sure, the lesbian presence was thick 13 years ago but it was downright unbelievable this year. I felt like I'd walked into one giant lesbian party and anytime ANYONE for ANY reason feels weirdly out of place, they're unlikely to ever go back. The only reason I even went this year was to see my friend performing on one of the side stages. I've been to many of Sarah's concerts and will keep going-- but not on this stage. It's just too much. I'm not saying in any way that lesbians should be discouraged from attending but the organizers need to figure out a way to lessen the tour's overbearing lesbian branding. Of course, such an issue will never be addressed or even acknowledged as "problematic" because the gays would be up in arms. This isn't kosher to say out loud but I promise you that scores of potential ticket buyers were turned off because Lilith is now known first and foremost as that "lesbian concert". How did this happen? Sure, I'm viewing this from a straight-girl's worldview but they've got to broaden the appeal so that it's a place where you just might catch a glimpse of dudes (real ones) and not feel deeply sympathetic for the poor schmuck. Why must a celebration of womanhood now be owned by the celebrants of womanlove? Can I have my festival back, please?

@TBoz -"ANYONE for ANY reason feels weirdly out of place, they're unlikely to ever go back."

Poor you. Now you at least have an idea how minorities and homosexuals feel every single day.

As for getting YOUR festival back, it wasn't yours to begin with. You'll just have to get comfortable with the fact that you share the same taste in music as lesbians. Think of it positively as something you have in common and use it as a tool to understand rather than asking that lesbian presence be lessened.

Lilith Fair has been swallowed up by lesbians?

Please. There aren't enough lesbians to swallow up a Justin Bieber show at the Hollywood Bowl.

Strange that, while admitting that the tour is on life support and probably won't make it to the end, the reviewer made is sound as if the L.A. show was a specatcular spectacle amongst tour dates met with quarter-filled, uninspired audiences, and if rumors are to be believed, most of which got in 'gratis' in one form or another.

To be fair, the Lilith Faire of the 90's was a great idea, perfectly executed. But times have changed and whoever it was who thought doing it again was a good idea should be fired on the spot, never to work in the industry again. This tour is and abject and colossal failure and as I've stated here and elsewhere before, should be pulled from all forms of life-support and be allowed to die with whatever dignity is left.

Pathetic. Sad. But oh so very, VERY true...

The only reason I didn't go to the festival is not because it was full of womenlovers. It was because there wasn't any performers that peeked my interest. One should also take into consideration must people are out of work especially str8 women according to one of the women who commented earlier(LOL) Anyway God Try Sarah but you should fly solo or with just the top three peformers next time. File this one under I would rather sleep in on a Saturday.

I have to agree with the comment made by Paul - Brandi was very much overlooked in this review and her duet with Miranda Lambert was my highlight too. Brandi is an excellent and powerful force on the stage. Play on, Brandi!!

I loved the concert, and yes, it WAS full of women. But as a woman, that made it even more special (in my mind) because how often do you attend an event that is made up of 97% women who are all there celebrating diversity in female artistic musical expression. Love it. Would go again in a heatbeat.

Agreed that I didn't necessarily love the line-up and would've loved to see more of my favorite artists (Queen Latifah, Indigo Girls, Colbie Caillat, Court Yard Hounds, etc...) BUT I left with a new favorite (Miranda) that I had never given time to before. That's what Liltih is all about to me.

All in all, great day. Thanks, Sarah, for bringing it back.

Who the hell attends a concert and is most impressed by speculating about the crowd's bedroom activities? I mean, really? The alleged lesbians in the crowd ruined your evening? Really? Perhaps you should only attend concerts in Alabama or Utah or Saudi Arabia. Those places know how to keep gays and lesbians in their place...hidden, denied, and locked away from view.

I thank you, however. You made me examine my own negative feelings about the crowd's ugly clothes, sensible shoes, horrific haircuts, taste for domestic beer, total avoidance of the fitness craze, disdain for underwear and makeup, armpit hair, and finally being snarled at or ignored because I happen to have a penis.

My point is...I still was focused on the amazing music coming from the stage. The crowd was background noise. It's always best to ignore any and every concert crowd. People, in general, are unpleasant and smelly. Get thousands of them together and add alcohol and it always turns out badly.

Deal with it or stay home.


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