Alanis Morissette at Chicago Theatre

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
December 16, 2002

Unlike most radio stations’ holiday extravaganzas, WTMX-FM (101.9) takes a less-is-more approach. Instead of glomming eight or 10 bands to play a marathon show in an enormodome, the station known as the Mix selects a couple mainstream acts to headline each year. The result rarely is cutting edge, but almost always a pleasant experience.

At the fourth annual “Miracle on State Street” Saturday evening at the Chicago Theatre, Alanis Morissette interjected some much needed angst into this holiday series. Sleigh bells ring? Not hardly. Morissette’s an inquisitive type of artist who exudes a range of emotions in her shows, but glib cheer isn’t one of them.

Dressed in a pair of leather jeans and a purple, peekaboo tunic, Morissette was backed by a tight five-man band that worked through some recurring sound problems throughout the 90-minute set.

Morissette almost always sounds great live. But watching her has never been the most comfortable experience, because you feel almost bad for her. Though she obviously adores the adulation her fans lavish on her, she doesn’t–and has never–looked particularly at home onstage. She constantly wrings her hands and shakes her arms as she nervously stalks the stage.

But the minute she has a guitar to strum, Morissette calms down, even when she’s singing numbers that tug at your heart.

Though this show has marked her last concert of a yearlong tour, her voice sounded as fresh as if it had been her first. Her repertory of songs was strong, including favorites such as “All I Really Want” and “Hand in Pocket.” And when she sang “So Pure,” the little kid in her shone through.         But her songs make you wonder what that little kid had to go through before reaching stardom.

The highlight was the one-two punch of “You Oughta Know” and “Hands Clean.” Both songs were compelling, but they also have lyrics that are mildly disturbing, particularly the latter. With her breakthrough single, “You Oughta Know,” Morissette set herself up as the wronged young woman who takes revenge on an older lover by exposing his insincerity and duplicity.

But with “Hands Clean,” Morissette tells the story of what sounds like statutory rape. The melody is sweetly hypnotic and she sang in such a cavalier manner that it took a moment for the lyrics to make an impact. Singing from the perspective of an industry mentor seducing an underage Alanis, she sang: “If you weren’t so wise beyond your years, I would’ve been able to control myself/If it weren’t for my attention you wouldn’t have been successful/…If it weren’t for your maturity, none of this would have happened…Ooh, don’t go telling everybody/And overlook this supposed crime.”

Creep-out factor aside, the song is a pop gem. And if Morissette doesn’t mind airing her dirty laundry, I suppose we shouldn’t feel guilty enjoying it.

Tonic opened the show with a superb 45-minute set that showed off an explosive rhythm section as much as it did Emerson Hart’s plaintive vocals.  With “You Wanted More,” he sang the universal truth:  “Love is hard, love is strong/You will never say you were wrong/I don’t know when I got bitter/But love is surely better when it’s gone.”

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