Though it was one of the most successful package tours of
the late '90s, 2010 hasn't been especially kind to Lilith Fair so far. After an
11-year-break, Sarah McLachlan's festival devoted to women in music has encountered trouble on the summer concert circuit, resulting in multiple canceled dates and
artists, like Norah Jones and Kelly Clarkson. (Clarkson's dropout stung especially: Kansas City's Lilith
date was meant to feature the pop princess as a headliner, and we were sadly disappointed.)
Regardless, a strong line-up drew a thin -- but stubborn -- crowd of fans to Sandstone last night.
Upon arriving at Sandstone last night, a scuffed-up post on the box office window informed me that
Lilith had switched its line-up: Ingrid Michaelson now occupied Metric's 5:00
to 5:30p.m. slot, meaning that I barely missed the chance to ogle Emily Haines'
slinky dance moves and beautiful skin. Haines and co. hit up Kansas City at
least once a year, if not more; but the band's slick electronic pop would have
been an excellent shock of color and sound to jazz up an otherwise low-impact
A thin crowd gathered at Sandstone last night, comprised
equal parts sorority girls, soccer moms and Lilith veterans -- mullets, Tevas
and all. (And of course, the stray misguided bro, with two Miller lights in hand
and his t-shirt tied around his head, looking for someone, anyone.) The numbers were low enough that Sandstone had blocked off
the lawn, and instead relegated Lilith-goers to the seats. This was shocking
upon first glance: dewy (that's the nice word for it, right?) women in sopping
tank tops and cargo shorts teemed throughout Sandstone's weathered blue rows,
but even those weren't entirely full. I can't eyeball numbers worth a damn, but
I'd say that the venue was roughly holding one-fourth of its capacity. (It was
small enough that chic ladies with radios picked out especially enthusiastic
women and fanned tickets in their faces, telling them that they'd "been
promoted to V.I.P.")
This was good news for those looking to sit back and absorb
some girl-rock, and even better news for those trying to get wasted: I spied
multiple groups of ladies in their late thirties doing ride-'em-cowboy dance
moves, and climbing on the seats for pyramid-posed photos. This was due to
these gigantic drinks that are a margarita (!) and a strawberry daquiri (!) in
one, huge, forearm-length plastic glass (!). It looked excellent next to my
free promotional tampons. (Shut up.)
On to the show: Adult alternative favorite Ingrid Michaelson launched
directly into her first number with her husky alto and jangly, crisp backing
band. Her easy, catchy ditties immediately demonstrated the undeniable strength
in Michaelson's craft: her songwriting. (She even alluded to this on stage,
mentioning that people have asked her if she's doing covers of other peoples'
songs.) At first, Michaelson's voice seemed choppy, if not a little nervous;
but after a relatively shaky first number, she pulled a soulful croon out of
thin air without breaking a sweat. Well, figuratively. "I have a gross comment
to make," Michaelson said. "I'm so hot that I'm sweating between my thighs and
it's running down my legs. I thought I pulled a Fergie." She laughs. "But this
is what Lilith Fair is all about: loving everybody despite their inner thigh
sweat." If Michaelson didn't
already win over the audience with effortless renditions of "Maybe" (which is a
great fuckin' song, by the way) and "The
Way I Am," she wrapped her set with a cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic" and a
choreographed -- yes, with jazz hands -- bow from her band.
Court Yard Hounds is the instrumental section of the Dixie
Chicks: Martie McGuire and Emily Robison. On top of being mad pretty, this pair
of sisters can rock an impressive range of folksy instruments, from McGuire's
signature fiddle to Robison's plucky banjo, and the duo has soaring, perfectly-tuned
harmonies, to boot. So, what's missing? Intensity. Robison's
smooth vocals recall the roots-rock appeal of Sheryl Crowe; but they lack a brashness
that hooks a listener. Court Yard Hounds recalls the same problem the Watsons had after
stepping out from behind Jenny Lewis for their own debut album. Unfortunately,
a pair of incredible backup singers at the forefront sound exactly like what
they are: incredible backup singers. Instead, bursts of delicious friction
came from McGuire and Robison's instrumental sections. One line of McGuire's
fiddle had more attitude than both women's vocals combined. Court Yard Hounds wasn't disappointing,
or even unpleasant; it was simply pale in comparison to the other female voices
showcased that night.
Depending on who you ask, Emmylou Harris' raw alto is either the voice
of an angel, or a grating, goat-like warble. (Personally, I believe that Harris is beauty incarnate, but that's beside the point.) Harris emerged from backstage looking as though she was in her kitchen or living room, rather than at an amphitheater holding thousands of people. Her silver hair turned a bewitching lavender in the stage lights as Harris and her band, the Red Dirt Boys, spun sprawling tales with the weary ease of a slow Western swing. Time-worn favorites like "Orphan Girl" and "Red Dirt Girl" were strung like pearls next to a beautiful, backwater-gospel-like acapella number. Harris recieved a standing ovation from the bottom of the crowd, and it was well-deserved.
By this point, the sun had begin to set, and many older women were perched in the back of the venue wearing shirts that advertised the next act: Heart. A mysterious burning smell and visible clouds of smoke (hello, fog machine!) pervaded Heart's set, and it might have been because these ladies were burning this shit down on stage. "Barracuda" got off to a rough, whinnying start, but as Ann Wilson's vocals warmed up and reached their raspy prime, Heart turned into a lean, mean, rockin' machine.
A new acoustic number from the band's forthcoming album, Red Velvet Car, was much more in line with the singer-songwriter angle of the night thus far, showing glints of Stevie Nicks and Melissa Ethridge. But, of course, the band's power ballads were what got Kansas City's ladies on their feet: "Crazy On You" began with a fiery Spanish guitar solo from Nancy Wilson, and actually ended with her kicking her foot to her shoulder (awesome) before catapulting the rest of the band into the song. In fact, the crowd was so stoked, Heart came back for an encore after their set -- and they were the opener. You know how often that happens? Never.
Sarah McLachlan opened with her soft-as-downy, tear-jerker of a tune, "Angel." (To quote Ingrid Michaelson -- my new best friend -- "I remember listening to Sarah McLachlan in my adolescence, and crying, and eating oreos." Yes. Flashback.) It was a severe mood swing from Heart's contagiously enthusiastic set, but McLachlan bridged the transition well: at her weakest, McLachlan carried her hits with an admirable energy, and at her best, she brought a pent-up rage to them, snarling her smooth, flowing vocal reputation. She was even spunky. "Is this normal, this weather?" McLachlan asked. "Holy shit." Of course, McLachlan also remarked on fireflies back stage and the setting of the crescent moon in the distance -- hey, she's still a soul sister, y'know? Hits like "Building a Mystery" and "Adia" felt soothing and incense-scented, like a slow yoga exercise.
"All of us have great gifts to offer the world, each and every one of us. This next song is dedicated to that," McLachlan said, before intoning the first words of "World on Fire.""That's a big reason why I wanted to bring this back," said McLachlan to the crowd. "This feeling of community, and all the good vibes. We all get to feel like we're special, like we're a part of something." Looking at all of the upward turned faces of mothers and daughters soaking in McLachlan's healthy, positive glow, it seemed like she might be on to something.