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Often irritating, sometimes inspiring: Alanis.
  • Often irritating, sometimes inspiring: Alanis.

Tori Amos
Alanis Morissette
Blossom Music Center
September 8

Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette, two earthy white chicks with rabid followings of neo-hippie girls and sensitive, pony-tailed guys, share suspicious, if little known, pasts. Victims of flashdance fashions and bad music (Amos embraced pop metal with her first band, Y Kant Tori Read, and Morissette played pop-dance crap on her first two albums), they released early albums so embarrassing, you have to scour cut-out bins and collectors' stores to find them.

Both might have disavowed their pasts, but now they're only slighter better — sure, they promote feminist revenge fantasies and write confessional, quasi-poetic lyrics about growing up in male-dominated worlds. But their songbooks simply aren't deep enough to justify the mania they induced at Blossom. Amos has bid adieu to solo piano performances (she did two tracks without her band) in favor of a big rock production (lights, smoke, loud guitars). But playing at full volume isn't her forte. While "Cornflake Girl" and "God" both benefited from thumping drums and heavy guitars, "Crucify" lost its edge, and too many songs got the routine, alt-rock treatment. For her encore, Amos turned in a terrific rendition of "Precious Things" — she delivered the line "So you can make me cum/That doesn't make you Jesus" like a veritable battle call. Too bad it was Amos's best line of the night.

Unabashedly displaying a new age/hippie aesthetic in the form of tie-dyed sheets that festooned the stage, Morissette constantly paced with a manic, if misdirected, energy. Seldom standing still long enough to really connect with the audience, and possessing a voice shrill enough to curdle milk, Morissette was often more irritating than inspiring.

With simple themes about self-improvement and catchy rock choruses, "All I Really Want," "You Learn," and "Hand in My Pocket" were good party songs, if nothing else. To her credit, Morissette closed her set with a stripped-down version of "You Oughta Know" that was surprisingly powerful, given the extent to which the song has been overexposed. Morissette stood at the edge of the stage in a semipossessed pose that made its sentiments seem genuine. Like Amos's "Precious Things," the lyrics to "You Oughta Know" ("Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?") got a rise out of the crowd, but didn't exactly redeem the rest of the set. While Amos and Morissette certainly aren't one-hit wonders, their catalogues have too much filler to make their live shows consistently engaging. — Jeff Niesel

Low
Mick Turner
Hilo
Straw
Speak in Tongues
September 8

It might have been funny (ironic funny) if the cops busted Speak in Tongues during Low's set. Hopelessly unrowdy, Low would make about the worst party band imaginable. If they played a fraternity, everyone would be huddled in corners and crying in their beers. As it was, the crowd at Speak in Tongues kept it quiet, refrained from poking neighbors, and listened to Low do its thing, which approximates the Everly Brothers locked in a walk-in freezer. Arresting vocal harmonies, yes. Simple guitar strumming, yes. But Low's subject matter is decidedly chilly, its sound sparse and barren, and its tempos have slowed to the speed of frosty molecules.

Low does have its weaknesses: The band is way too enamored with whole notes for one, and it has a bad habit of stringing them together. But in concert, a somewhat more raucous (qualification: raucous for them) set built predominantly from songs with a little more git-up made for a stirring performance. Maybe they'll make the frat circuit yet.

The most striking act of the evening, Mick Turner, and his cohort violinist played in the dark at opposite ends of the stage, giving up the center to a makeshift projection screen splashed with hand-shot footage of roadsides — urban settings, forest, plains. The music was built from cleanly played violin and guitar lines; set against dense, looping electronics, it was almost as if the two musicians reacted to and accompanied the visuals. Though present only on one track of Marlan Rosa, Taylor's latest recording, the violin added immensely to the performance, giving the often hazy music more shape and thrust — but not so much that it lost that sun-melted mood so well suited to languid stares out the passenger-side window.

Despite all the promise in an oxymoron, Hilo wasn't much fun. Thoroughly committed (at least for a good forty minutes) to the drone and rumble school of art rock, the band kept the out-of-tune singing out-of-tune and its dirge-rock nice and slow. Nevertheless, they do get points for a flute number and a few more points for not getting carried away with it. Thoroughly more fun was opener (and sometimes Speak in Tongues sound man) Straw, who may have single-handedly (dis)placed the good old acoustic guitar into the miscellaneous instrument column.

Straw used just about every surface of his ax for music-making; highlights included slapped and abused strings, fingernails scraped across the guitar back, and resonant yelps and cries down the sound hole. More conventional folk/rock/confessional music ensued after an especially rhythmic opening, but still firmly in place was Straw's admirably percussive technique. Every few notes or so, he'd pluck a string so hard, you'd wince. Yow. — Aaron Steinberg

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