Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company  
The Boston Globe

August 4, 1999, Wednesday, Replate Edition


LENGTH: 713 words

HEADLINE: It was a Lilith kind of day; Music Review; LILITH FAIR;
With Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, the Pretenders, Mya, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, and others;
At: the Tweeter Center, yesterday

BYLINE: By Joan Anderman, Globe Correspondent


   MANSFIELD - The goddess smiled on Lilith's spiritual heirs yesterday, gracing the Fair with blue skies, warm sun, no humidity, and nearly 20,000 fans primed for 7 1/2 hours of music. Sheryl Crow spoke passionately at a preshow press conference about Lilith being the antidote to the "out-and-out anger" she experienced at Woodstock a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, the Lilith Fair overflowed with good vibes, good causes (Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan presented a check for $18,900 to Boston's Respond organization to help battered women and their families), and, of course, good songs.

The festival was also a paragon of organization, a priceless feature that the talkative Crow credited to the high concentration of women running the show. The sets were not only punctual, sometimes even starting slightly ahead of schedule, they were staggered so that fans could catch all 11 acts if they chose. Pathways connecting stages were transformed into the Village, lined with booths offering everything from ceramics to condoms, ankle bracelets to cell phones, information to sundresses.

The nagging question of diversity that's plagued Lilith since it began three years ago was, finally, answered this summer. Even the tiny Village Stage, which was like a musical Welcome Wagon situated just inside the Tweeter Center gates, offered a stylistic smorgasbord beginning with local talent contest winner Lori McKenna - with lovely, folk-pop ballads and country-flavored folk-rockers - and moving on to Norwegian nouveau-lounge singer Bertine, and wrapping up with Veruca Salt's Nina Gordon, who played earthy confessionals and gently edgy rockers from her upcoming solo album, due in January.

Newcomer Kendall Payne, a next-generation McLachlan, opened the B stage with a set of spry, sensitive pop-rockers, energy and volume cranked way up from her more introspective Paradise show several months ago. On her heels the Dance Hall Crashers replaced the originally scheduled and mysteriously silenced Lamb, moving the crowd to pogo with wonderfully energetic pop-punk. And what of the wonderful Aimee Mann? The former Bostonian is still writing some of the smartest hooks and acerbic, literate lyrics in pop, and she's still struggling to be heard. Mann loosed a handful of new and weird little gems that will be out in September . . . she hopes.

The Main Stage - draped in gold and purple banners depicting nude women, lutes, peacocks, and swirly doodles - was for the most part a triumph. McLachlan visited each set in long dresses and Birkenstocks like a doting aunt dropping in on her nieces. Her husband/drummer Ash Sood followed suit, contributing percussion to multiple sets throughout the day, including Me'Shell Ndegeocello, who can do, as she pointed out during the press conference, "whatever genre I want. I'm not the black contingent." She is, however, a truly original bassist who draped deep, gauzy vocal melodies over a sinuous, color-blind fusion of rock, jazz, funk, and R&B.

Mya was the weak link here, offering pedestrian rhythm 'n' blues, 30 little girls dancing with Sarah McLachlan to a Rugrats song, and a freaky tap-dancing segment. Then Chrissie Hynde, Pretenders in tow, sauntered out in gold lame and black denim to rock Lilith's world with a searing, strutting, greatest hits-heavy set ("Ohio," "Chain Gang," "Middle of the Road," "Brass In Pocket") that was the high point of the day. Sheryl Crow, against all odds, held her rootsy own on Hynde's heels. She's no captivating showperson, but rather let song after great rocking pop song churn for themselves. Hynde attempted to duet with her on "If It Makes You Happy," but didn't know any of the words. Crow and McLachlan, though, traded gorgeous harmonies on "Strong Enough," and later on McLachlan's hymn-like "Angel."

As for the Lilith Fair creator herself, suffice it to say McLachlan's aura preceded her. Familiar radio hits seemed to take on holy meaning to this audience of galvanized women and a few hardy males - as if the goddess herself had descended to lift them up in song. A finale of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," sung by the entire company of this summer Fair plus surprise guest Judy Collins, ended the proceedings on a sweetly soaring, and powerful, note.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, 1. High point Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders rocked Lilith's world.
2. Mya was the weak link, offering pedestrian rhythm 'n' blues.