You Oughta Know Better
June 5, 2002
Perhaps it was the incredibly muggy weather, or perhaps the crowd was just tired, but the opening number of Alanis Morissette’s show was lackluster. The energy took a step downward from the excited anticipation that had built up in the crowd during the set change after opener Howie Day. Morissette, dressed in a sheer red tank top and black leather pants, opened with “Baba.” Fortunately, the excitement in the crowd soon picked up and by the fourth song, “Hand in My Pocket,” the crowd was singing along. During this song, Morissette was clearly in her element, gesturing confidently and working the front of the stage like a motivational speaker.
Morissette took the energy from the crowd and internalized it, delivering it back to the audience in the focused form of several ballads titled “Purgatory 1,” “Purgatory 2,” and “Purgatory 3.” These ballads were interspersed throughout her set and showcased her vocal range. Other highlights of the set were the thoughtful “That Particular Time,” which she played in the second encore as a calming finisher, and the hit single from the album Jagged Little Pill, “You Learn,” which had Morissette running around in circles, banging her head, and joining the drummer for a clanging cymbal finish.
Morissette’s music has diversified from songs composed of pure angst to include the influence of eastern sounds and more reflective melodies. In “Flinch,” she played an acoustic guitar instead of her sparkly electric model and evoked a more intimate and vulnerable mood. A pleasant addition -- a whole new set of lyrics or at least a cover of some other song in the middle of “So Unsexy” -- also helped set this live performance apart from the experience of merely blasting her CD.
Unfortunately, Morissette still hasn’t really figured out what to do with her hands and feet when she’s singing an up-tempo song and the microphone is in the stand. She fidgeted, swaying back and forth and waving her hands like a conductor with a nervous twitch. She also had trouble communicating with the audience. She seemed overly anxious, and tossed out a “Thank you so!” or “Thank you so much!” after every song, as if the audience would start to leave if she didn’t address them every so often. Perhaps it was fitting that she closed her set with the song “Thank You,” which involved the aforementioned nervous- tic dancing.
Her band, which consisted of two guitarists, a bassist, and a pianist, was a seriously under-showcased asset. Although they were all acknowledged at one point or another during the show, the instrumentalists were denied many opportunities for riffs and solos. Longer jam sessions on stage would have broken up the “All Morissette, all the time” feel of the concert. As it was, the band members seemed like little more than moving background statues.
Though she connected with her audience best when singing, Alanis didn’t use the time-honored call-and-response tactic to build audience involvement. Perhaps the confidence she could have gained from hearing her choruses belted back at her during songs like “Head Over Feet,” which had the majority of the amphitheater standing and singing along, would have reduced the number of unnecessary Thank you’s.
Overall, the concert was enjoyable, if not earthshatteringly revelatory. It was often hard to hear the lyrics, which reduced the emotional power of her music. Unless the listener already had all the songs memorized, the experience was truly enjoyable only during the radio hits and the slower ballads. A newcomer to Morissette’s music would not have been overwhelmed at this concert, but a devoted fan could leave having danced to and sung along with every tune.