Copyright 1999 VV Publishing Corporation  
The Village Voice


August 17, 1999, Tuesday

SECTION: Music; Pg. 121

LENGTH: 997 words



The success Lilith Fair, now in its third and final year, reads well on paper. Big-voiced gals with guitars have gained thousands of new female fans who leave clutching free CD samplers, NOW stickers, and Biore strips. The largesse to LIFEbeat and local women's shelters radiates an especially benevolent vibe after Woodstock. Lilith brings women together almost long enough to force a massive cycle synchronization and moves with an equality-driven efficiency--no two bands played concurrently; the end of one set cued the next. But something troubling lurked beneath the you-go-girl positivism. Women's music may be more bankable, but only if it fits into the marketable mold that has been wildly reinforced, ironically,by Lilith Fair itself.

It seems that slinky, bass-driven soul searching (Me'Shell Ndegeocello) and insidious melodies of bittersweet introspection (Aimee Mann) don't sell records. When MN played ''Grace,'' she quietly mentioned, ''It's the first single from my new album, I hope.'' That is, if it can get past Maverick, which is apparently hoping for something instantly accessible. Mann, whose laconic delivery recalls Chrissie Hynde, is buying her album back from ''the evil record company,'' which ''didn't hear a single,'' and will release it independently. Not even 20-year veterans like Hynde can relax. Before the Pretenders launched into ''Human,'' she said, ''Our record company and lots of radio people are here, so act like you like it.'' What kind of celebration is this?

Little imagination was required to figure out where the performers fit in the pop music market. Mya, a poised teenage song-and-dance prodigy, showed the influence of Miss Jackson's Rhythm Nation. Sheryl Crow, in a muscle T-shirt and sporting a short, tousled haircut, plowed confidently through her hits, with the swagger of a male rocker. Though Sarah McLachlan's sparkly, seraphic presence evoked high-pitched screams, I keep waiting for her to evolve as Mann and Ndegeocello have, and buy a distortion pedal. McLachlan must have been the quiet girl on the playground who never got angry and never chased the boys.--Carrie Havranek