St. Sarah McLachlan Sunday at Lilith Fair in Minneapolis

Star Tribune photo by Brendan Sullivan

That makes five Lilith Fairs for me – two in 1997, one each in ‘98 and ‘99 and again on Sunday. I’ve seen all four in the Twin Cities and one in Houston.
It’s time for some reflections on Lilith  – the concept, the music, the future.
·         Even though attendance was light on Sunday at Target Center (read my Strib report), I think Lilith Fair is still a great concept. It raises awareness about women’s issues, women’s charities and women musicians. The concept can work with the right lineup at reasonable ticket prices.
·         The lineup this year was not aimed at the right demographic. The main concertgoing audience is 20- and 30-somethings. Not 40-somethings. Four or five acts like Metric, Brandi Carlile, Gossip and Miranda Lambert make sense and then, for frosting, add founder Sarah McLachlan and one other classic name, be it Mary J. Blige, Heart, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow or whoever.
·         With all due respect, McLachlan isn’t hot enough to headline in an arena or amphitheater at this point. So let her appear second to last and have a hotter act close. Granted, it might be a different act in each city (which doesn’t help to ease production problems). But it would make elevate the excitement of the evening. 
·         Sunday’s nine-hour marathon lacked cross pollination between acts. No one sat in with anyone – unlike at many other Liliths here and elsewhere.
·         Sunday’s all-star finale of “Because the Night” (written by Bruce Springsteen, made famous by Patti Smith and later 10,000 Maniacs) was underwhelming. Why? Because all the verses were sung by McLachlan or one of her two backup singers. With powerhouse vocalists like Heart’s Ann Wilson onstage, share the spotlight. This finale was more slick than sisterly.
How was the music?
Chantal Kreviazuk. She was loose, spontaneous, chatty and indecisive. But very real. She even admitted that she worships the ground that Randy Newman walks on (and then played his “Feels Like Home”) and that she has a happy marriage (“but he’s hot, very, very hot.” OK, check out Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace; that’s her hubby.) She was more memorable than any of her tunes. Grade: B-minus.
Vita Chambers. The 15-year-old New Yorker originally from Barbados had infectiously spunky energy as she played propulsive rock like a polite Avril Lavigne. Her cover of No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl” was a perfect choice for the setting. Even though maybe only 500 people were watching her, Vita acted like she was playing to a full arena. Grade: B
Vedera. Lead singer Kristen May had a pixie-ish presence and a chirpy voice. The Kansas City emo-ish pop quartet’s music was fairly generic. Grade: C-plus
Kate Nash. Sorry, I didn’t see the Brit pop star because I was attending a press conference with Sarah McLachlan, Court Yard Hounds and others. But my colleague reports that Nash was bratty but good, though she seemed to sulk because the crowd (the houselights were still on so Nash could see them) wasn’t into it. Grade from colleague: B
Metric. Galvanizing electro-rock from Canada. Singer Emily Haines was glam, sweaty and just plain great. She managed to segue from a version of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My” into her own “Gimme Sympathy” in which she begs for some Beatles or Stones and then into "Dead Disco." Grade: A
Court Yard Hounds. Martie Maguire and Emily Robison have gone from Dixie Chicks to hippie chicks, playing an introspective Americana with bluegrass instruments and occasional noisy guitars. Their 45-minute set ended with a  rocker featuring Maguire's 6-year-old twin daughters (“they’re two-thirds of a group call the Ruffles,” Mom said) on shakers. The girls looked, um, bored. Grade: B-minus
Heart.  “Barracuda,” “Straight On,” “Even It Up” segueing into “Gimme Shelter,” “Alone” (this was not an “American Idol” moment), “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You” – Ann Wilson’s voice sounded fabulous. It wasn’t all nostalgia. The three new songs from the forthcoming “Red Velvet Car” album proved that Heart still has a pulse. After hearing Ann again live, I think the Led Zeppelin guys should consider her as a fill-in for Robert Plant. Grade: A-minus.
Mary J. Blige. After starting with unencouraging  abbreviated versions of a few tunes, the queen of hip-hop soul earned her crown with “I Am,” an emphatic, foot-stomping, goosebump-inducing treatment of U2’s “One,” a perfectly restrained and then screamingly soulful reading of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,”  a suitably whipped-into-a-frenzy “No More Drama” and “Be without You.” Grade: A
Sarah McLachlan. MJB is a hard act to follow. But St. Sarah opened with “Angel” and the fans stood in rapt attention like they were listening to a hymn from her. The ‘90s hit “Building a Mystery” and the new, bubbly, almost Buble-like “Loving You Is Easy” kept the momentum going. But, while McLachlan has a pretty, potent voice, she is not the vocal tour de force  that Blige is and her material is better suited to theaters than arenas. Grade: B-plus.

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