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Annie Lennox

Royce Hall, Los Angeles CA - April 29, 2003
Shubert Theatre, Chicago, IL - April, 1 2003

By Mary Ladd & Jo Kozlowski

Jo (from Chicago): You'll love the show! It's very no-frills, but the Lennox presence is intense as always (even if her wardrobe choices weren't always the best). She's become braver as she's aged and seems a lot more at ease with being a solo performer. She even does a piano version -- after explaining that she decided to get over being afraid to play the piano in public -- of "Here Comes the Rain Again" that's really beautiful.

Mary (from LA): I saw the show this past Tuesday. It was as wonderful as you promised. I was hoping together we could do a review since you know much more about her musical history than I do. It would be much more interesting with your thoughts added in.

Jo: I'd LOVE to discuss Annie with you.

Mary: I'd like to talk about her set list...which was surprisingly hit-oriented. I don't know why this surprised me. From her solo album Diva she did "Why", "Walking on Broken Glass", "Cold" and "Money Can't Buy It." "Money Can't Buy It" was a great choice to open with - I love this song and it's meditation on in-your-face-anti-materialism. It was high-energy without being the ubiquitous opening showstopper, plus I love the little rap in the middle. From Medusa she sang "No More 'I Love Yous'" and "Don't Let It Bring You Down". From Savage, she sang "I Need a Man" (another fine mid-song rap or rage) and "You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart;" from Revenge she sang "Missionary Man." From Be Yourself Tonight: "Would I Lie to You" and "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" (great with those three perfect backup singers...they all almost sounded pre-recorded); from Touch: "Here Comes the Rain Again" (you were right...she took it to another level - if this was possible) and the uber-haunting, appropriate to any girl's soundtrack, "Who's That Girl." From Sweet Dreams: "Sweet Dreams" and "Love Is a Stranger." I'm not familiar with the new Bare material but apparently she did "Pavement Cracks" from it. She didn't sing anything from the last Eurythmics album Peace.

I thought she might do something "simply solo" or be "in the moment" and do new-album material only with one or two hits thrown it. I'm not complaining. The show was a wonderful retrospective, and great, great fun for me as my first Lennox/Eurythmics show; but is this typical of her shows historically?

Jo: They were always aware that fans wanted to hear their hits, so every show had a thoughtful blend of new tunes for whichever album they were touring in support of and e-mics classics. They didn't always do flat-out LP renditions of those tunes, though, so, as with "Here Comes The Rain Again" in Annie's current tour, the unexpected made the familiar wonderfully prismatic. I loved everything Annie chose to sing this time through, old and new, although I did think it odd there was nothing from Peace (what's your take on why that might have been?). Still, I was a happy camper and felt I couldn't have asked for more once she sang my favorite cut off Diva, "Cold." Annie used to do "Never Gonna Cry Again" and sometimes "Take Me to Your Heart" from In The Garden, but, with more of a catalog now, she apparently didn't feel the need to dig back that far. "Never Gonna Cry Again" -- that one was a treat because she used to play her flute.

Mary: Maybe there were no hits from Peace. I don't remember. I know I liked "Lifted" and "Peace is Just a Word".

What is that thing that strips your raw with Annie Lennox lyrics. "Who's That Girl" seems to be one of the worst for this. I was getting downright teary-eyed at this point of the show and starting to feeling like a royally over-emotional dork. I went to the show with a friend of mine who said she started crying during the show as well.

Jo: The new songs make good use of her penchant for soulful dwelling in the minor key -- something I've always loved about Annie's music (I think her "Love Song for a Vampire" from the Bram Stoker's Dracula soundtrack is gorgeous). They also explore her pet themes of love, loss, older/wiser philosophy, and looking for a "comfort zone." I loved Medusa, but I'm thrilled she's been writing her own stuff again.

Mary: I am with you on "Love Song for a Vampire" not only as partial explication of the Dracula character (great song - disappointing movie) but as a stand-alone classic, unrequited love song. She does something challenging and beautiful here: lets evil express this kind of noble love -- it's very moving, very original, very divine.

What is that beautiful melancholy space Annie Lennox creates with her music and her voice, particularly on songs like "Who's That Girl" and "Love song for a Vampire?" Is it those minor keys, the lingering, drawn out delivery of well-chosen, efficient words? It's heartbreaking, but of an inspiring variety, if that makes any sense...an uplifting suffering, a camaraderie of suffering. That she sings about despair isn't so interesting as much as how she handles her topic: intellectualizes it a little for a sting, turns it into a piercing despair that never debases itself with clichés. In her hands it's a pure thing of pain, melodrama in the hands of anybody else.

What about the venue scale of this tour? Royce Hall on the UCLA campus was perfect, hardly a bad seat unless you got the extreme side balcony. Felt like a good intimate fit for an Annie Lennox show. Good people watching. I can't imagine what an arena show with her would be like.

Jo: On the question of Annie in large arena shows: I saw many Eurythmics concerts in huge theaters, mostly outdoor sound wastelands, and they always rocked the rafters. People often seemed surprised at how hot a band they were live -- the techno studio sound typical of their earlier albums was no more than a point of departure for them in concert. They had great musicians on the Revenge Tour, including Blondie's drummer Clem Burke, who's a show in himself. And Dave is no slouch on guitar -- I couldn't wait for the part during "Here Comes the Rain Again" when Annie would slowly walk upstage and leave him alone in the spotlight to run with his solo (it was a little different each time; always a moment when you felt transported into his complex imagination). A friend who came with me to one of the shows exclaimed afterward, "Where DID that boy learn to play like that?!"

Annie's voice (unless she's plagued with the throat problems she has a history of suffering) can slice across acres of fans or be front-row intimate even in vast settings. She's always demonstrated an arresting mix of Eurocool and gospel passion. As you witnessed, she tends to be very theatrical on stage, so her gestures and expressions are well suited to mega-arenas. For someone so shy, she has an interestingly authoritative presence on stage. It was stunning the first time I saw her point her microphone at the crowd during "Sweet Dreams" and then stand there with her hand on her hip as we all jumped in without missing a beat. The look on her face was priceless: "Carry on, you know this -- and I'd bloody well better be able to hear you people out on the lawn or we're starting over!" We loved it -- and so did she. She broke out in an enormous grin before finishing the song and thanking us graciously.

Mary: You warned me for her outfits. My friend called her a fashion nerd. Being fashion-challenged myself, I found her outfits endearing. I would wear those things, I swear.

Jo: Annie seems to have much more of a love-hate relationship with "fashion chic" than Cher, though both can flip the media the bird through their dress-up choices. I've always thought that, while Cher's inner five-year-old lives to run amok in feathers and beads, Annie's isn't always confident about -- and is often downright annoyed by -- the
concept of making a statement with fashion. Maybe I'm projecting my own dork factor into this, but it seems Annie is content, if something she's wearing just doesn't work, to let it confound. Cher does this too, but she seems to have more fun with it.

Mary: Why am I such a lover of deep-voiced female singers? If Streisand is like champagne (not butter, as they say), deep-voiced women like Annie are like maple syrup. I feel this emotional connection, something comforting.

Jo: My tastes have always leaned toward female singers with low voices as well; I'm really not inclined to spend much time listening to those in the higher ranges. There are some exceptions, but they have other characteristics going for them that, for one reason or another, appeal to my ears.

I don't know a whole lot about the "scientific" or metaphysical side of music, so I'm not exactly sure why lower voices elicit the response they do. Certainly they tend to be soothing -- an archetypal quality I suppose engages most of us naturally -- and there must be a social conditioning factor in there as well (low voices are associated with authority, reassurance, wisdom, etc.).

For me, lower-range vocals by women singers resonate on a deeper, sometimes darker level of my own consciousness. I relate first of all as a woman -- there's a kinship in listening to other women express familiar emotions, experiences, and realizations in song. Then, too, I relate as somebody who by nature is extremely introspective. There's something about those alto tones that helps me access right-brain depths of reflection -- about my work, about personal matters, about whatever I might not be as open to reaching farther into without the mood-setting help of the music.

It isn't just the voice, though. There has to be something more to it than deep tones alone for me to really be a fan of the artist. I've thought about this a good deal too, and realized I respond to, if not outright rawness, at least a very "real" quality, a certain essence that's intense and/or not totally polished. It's why I love Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday (one of my cats is named Billie; another is Annie!). You wouldn't exactly describe Billie Holiday as having a low voice, but the frayed sound of it bares a lot of soul. That gets me every time. Judy Garland breaks my heart, even in recordings during her prime, when her voice was comparatively mature and refined. I guess I'm a sucker for pathos. I'm a huge fan of Janis Ian, who, like Annie Lennox and Etheridge, is also known as a songwriter (Joplin didn't write many; and hearing "God Bless the Child" makes you wish Billie had written many more). That brings an intimacy into the "real/raw" mix that wins me over every time. (Ian is GREAT with fans -- it's usually very easy to meet her after a show.) I don't know -- it gives me a kind of courage to listen to these women. Do you think that's a big part of it -- the courage to look inside yourself, based on the brave sounds these women make?

Mary: There's something about a smooth alto singer....I think maybe it's a longing for something motherly. Something like the voice of the universal Earth Mother. It is something I must be conditioned to...because it just sounds, not smarter, but more connected to the Earth. I said not smarter because Dolly Parton sounds smart. Deep voices sound rooted, physically rooted, like they are tapping into something substantial. Maybe we heard our mothers singing in the womb and through the water it sounded...uh...I dunno, deeper. That's a wild guess. I've never been able to explain the things I love. I can't get my arms around that.

Jo: Annie has reached a very intriguing point in her life. There's something about a woman nearing fifty who knows her power well that's kick-ass inspiring! We saw that happen with Cher. What I want to know is, Mary, where can we get some of that Diva Surge?

Mary: The Diva Surge: it looks like "riding the crest of a wave," huh? Maybe it has something to do with hot flashes! I think if you're a woman and you last long enough in the music business, you've survived some kind of dirty rite of passage; you get treated with a kind of awe for outwitting the "beauty/youth worship" machinery. There's gotta be some kick from that.

Jo: Power is certainly evident in all of them. This, I think, is as true of Cher as it is of Annie Lennox. Cher is as real (idiotic plastic surgery jokes aside) as it gets: She's incredibly personable and honest, with a vulnerability that doesn't deny dumb mistakes. When I grow up I want to be as breezy as she is about struttin' my stuff on my own terms despite whatever crap anybody throws at me! (I haven't gotten there yet, despite my advancing years). When I grow up, I want to be as brave as Annie is about examining my life and walking on. I guess that's her more subdued version of struttin' her stuff no matter what.

Click here to see the Cher Zine Mary & Jo co-edited.
Visit Jo at the Virtual North Woods website.

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