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

July 11, 2010 |  4:13 pm

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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