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September 17, 1999

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Read a review of the 1999 Tori/Alanis 5 1/2 weeks concert in Boston that appeared in the September 17, 1999 edition of the MIT newspaper The Tech. You can also read it on The Tech web site.

Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette

A pickles and ice cream combo
By Fred Choi

Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette. At first glance, a casual observer might think the two were similar: after all, they're both "angry female rock singers." In reality, however, the two are about as similar as receiving snail mail and eating a snail. Because they are so different, comparing the two is at least a stretch, if not a downright exercise in futility. Tori Amos's eloquent quote from the joint May 1994 interview with Bjork and P.J. Harvey directly applies to her relationship with Alanis as well: "We have tits. We have three holes. That's what we have in common. We don't even play the same instruments."

Tori and Alanis performed at the Tweeter Center as part of their 5 1/2 weeks tour, sponsored by and Best Buy. In theory, the differences between two artists with such a strong presence as Tori and Alanis could have lead to a fascinating evening. Ideally, each musician's performance would contrast and complement the other's, thus providing the opportunity for the audience to experience a unique juxtaposition that would be more satisfying than if each performed alone. However, unlike more successful pairings, such as the recent Paul Simon and Bob Dylan tour, the Tori and Alanis combination was doomed from the start because of their radically different styles.

At the concert Tori performed first, and began with what has become her standard opener for this tour, a great version of "God." The song set the tone for the evening -- energized, rocking, and mostly familiar but with some new twists. Due to time constraints, the song, like several others of the evening, was streamlined and lacked Tori's traditional extended sections of improvisation. This was particularly noticeable when she omitted the virtuosic "You dropped a bomb on me" bridge, which has become the expected version of the song. However, this and other omissions ultimately did not detract from the songs, and any feelings of loss were compensated for by the new sounds and sections that were incorporated into the songs, such as the fantastic new version of "Crucify," and the appearance of several new ones, including the dark "Suede" and the slinky "Juarez."

Old favorites, such as "Precious Things" and "Cornflake Girl" were also hits with the crowd. Other highlights included the best version yet of "Sugar," a song that has featured numerous incarnations since its original appearance as a B-side in 1992, and "Professional Widow," a song from Tori's 1996 release which only now is making its concert debut. Throughout the concert Tori conveyed the joy she felt at being back on stage with her band from the last tour, Matt Chamberlain (drums), Steve Caton (guitar), and Jon Evans (bass). Tori recently spent time in the studio with them working on the new album (titled "To Venus and Back", scheduled to be released September 21).

The Tori portion of the concert proceeded smoothly: the audience appreciated her consummate skill as both a performer and as a songwriter, while most of Alanis fans entertained themselves elsewhere or listened along with the Tori fans until about halfway through Tori's portion of the concert. After Tori completed a tender rendition of Rolling Stones's "Angie", she dedicated the next song to a girl who had bought a ticket to the show but had passed away. She then launched into "Winter," an emotional ballad, which is always a favorite of many fans. The mood was entirely ruined, however, when a pair of raucous guys near the front of the stage distracted Tori with loud, extremely crude remarks to the point that she had to stop in the middle of the song and tell them to shut up. This was the most vivid example during the evening of why the concept of Tori and Alanis in concert together was a bad idea. Other examples included the odd looks Alanis fans gave to Tori fans, the latter dressed in fairy garb or in all black -- and the just as odd looks given back to the Alanis fans, who were dressed in "normal" clothes. It was also noteworthy that the crowd thinned considerably by the time Alanis's portion of the concert began.

Once Alanis began her set, the differences between the two performers became even more painfully apparent. Stylistically, the two have almost nothing in common, and it is no wonder that there seemed to be few people in the audience who were big fans of both artists. Tori presented herself first and foremost as a musician, with her instrumental skills as central to her concert as her singing. In addition, she creatively incorporated some movement within the limited confines of her piano bench and the surrounding area, but never to the point that it became distracting. Everything that Tori did onstage was for the purpose of communicating the point of her song to each person in the audience, not as though through a megaphone across a football field, but on a more intimate level.

In contrast, it seemed that the point of Alanis's concert was to put on a good show. There was the painful overamplification, so characteristic of most concerts, which always implies that there's something lacking in the songs themselves and in the way they are performed (Alanis herself playing on harmonica and guitar). Most puzzling, however, was Alanis's movement. The singer alternately lurched randomly around the stage like she was possessed by demons, strode from one end of the stage to another, and shuffled her feet backwards in a hopping fashion. The "dancing," while mildly entertaining at first, became tedious very quickly, although it seemed that Alanis fans enjoyed the spectacle. It was too bad that Alanis's presentation was so distracting, because her songs are actually quite good and her lyrics and melodies are more readily accessible than Tori's. She performed such radio hits as "Hand in my Pocket," "All I Really Want," and "Uninvited," as well as lesser-known songs from her two albums, including "Thank You," "That I Would Be Good," and a fantastic, powerful new song.

Throughout history, there have been good combinations and bad combinations. For every pairing of milk and cookies there's been one of pickles and ice cream, and although Tori and Alanis fans enjoyed the halves of the concert featuring their favorite artist, it seemed that few of them enjoyed the other half of the concert. Hopefully, in the future other artists seeking to pair up for tours will think twice.

This story was published on Friday, September 17, 1999.
Volume 119, Number 42

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