Lilith Fair is back, though not with a vengeance as much as a warm, comforting hug. The women’s music festival which famously ran for three years in the late 90s made its comeback in the new millennium late last month. The tour brought its message of female empowerment and community to San Francisco on Monday, its sixth stop out of 23 dates through the U.S. and Canada. As a veteran of its initial run and new incarnation, I can attest that concept’s enduring power, which now comes complete with a loving layer of nostalgia.
The tour features a wide and revolving cast of artists. For a show in an area largely considered to be one of the world’s biggest gay meccas, the Shoreline Amphitheatre lineup was devoid of queer female singers. Headlining were tour founder Sarah McLachlan, Heart, Miranda Lambert, The Bangles and Colbie Caillat.
Still, the festival as a whole features a slew of queer performers including Brandi Carlile, Gossip, Indigo Girls, Jennifer Knapp, Missy Higgins, Sia and Tegan and Sara. When asked the pre-show press conference about the inclusion of so many gay female artists, McLachlan said it wasn’t necessarily part of any plan.
Slow ticket sales forced the festival to cancel 11 of its dates. Still the San Francisco show attracted about 11,000 mostly female fans from across a wide age range — some finally old enough to experience their first Lilith, returning veterans like me and others who probably caught more than a few Heart shows in the ’70s. Also, despite the lack of lesbian artists on the bill, plenty of lesbian fans were out. In fact, if you closed your eyes you might have mistaken the venue for Dolores Park the previous Pride Weekend.
As further proof that women should run all music festivals, each set started on schedule – in fact many were a minute or two early. Caillat came out looking like a young, breezy Sheryl Crow (who happens to be playing several dates). She reminded the crowd exactly how much young she was by telling them “When I was 12 my sister took me to my first Lilith Fair.” Her set was filled with her easy, laid-back pop — culminating with her big hit “Bubbly.”
Next to squint into the still setting sun were The Bangles. Founding members Susanna Hoffs and sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson have reunited and have been touring together on-and-off since 2000. Without introduction (because, come on, none is needed), drummer Debbi beat the group immediately into their hit cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter.” And it’s like it’s 1987 all over again and I’m rocking out with a rad Trapper Keeper.
Hoffs, by the way, is still ridiculously hot. The band cranked out a hit parade of ’80s deliciousness from “Manic Monday” to “Eternal Flame,” “In Your Room” and — of course — “Walk Like and Egyptian.”
The stop’s sole country act, Lambert followed. Her staging included a wall of modular lights that looked like the inner workings of a toaster over. She welcomed the crowd with a rousing, “They let a country girl come to Lilith Fair tonight!” Unfortunately, many in the audience had already exited to buy beer and mill, fearing they wouldn’t like said country girl.
Their departure was their loss because Lambert proved to be a spitfire on stage. While I rank among those who couldn’t name a single one of her songs, the spunky singer won me over with her energy and style. And, yes, that is a shotgun she is using as mic stand.
The show took a break to screen an episode of Cougar Town. I don’t recall quite so much corporate sponsorship and product placement the first time around. But this is a recession, and ginormous rock and roll shows aren’t cheap.
With the sun safely set, it was time for the real fireworks to begin. Sister duo Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart took the stage to a roaring crowd. Ann had a flute. Yeah, suck it, Jethro Tull.
The set was a kinetic blur of Ann’s signature wail and Nancy’s trademark licks. The gals still got it and then some. The arena pulses in a state of rock nirvana as they ripped through anthems like “Alone,” “Crazy” and “Barracuda.” The ladies also played a few new numbers off their forthcoming album, “Red Velvet Car.”
Because they’re Heart and because Heart is a legend &dmash; wait for it — dary, the group came out for an encore, a hard-driving cover of Led Zeppelin’s “What Is & What Should Never Be.” These are the rock stars today’s rock stars dream about being when they grow up.
Lilith mastermind McLachlan ended the show, as she has every show. She opened with “Angel” and everyone immediately went out and adopted a stray puppy. Take all my money, ASPCA, just don’t made tear up watching all the sad puppies and kitties anymore.
McLachlan called the festival her “happy place, where I feel whole and complete.” Her set included her greatest hits — “Building a Mystery,” “Adia,” “Ice Cream” — as well as songs off her new album “Laws of Illusion.” Bubbly and chatty, McLachlan told the crowd the past couple years had been a “s–t storm” with ups and downs but she was “good now.”
She was also energetic now. As she closed her set with “Possession,” the singer jumped ecstatically off the drum set, landing on her bum and somersaulting backward. When she popped up, she told the audience, “I’m 42, I shouldn’t be doing that anymore. I almost pooped myself.”
The show closed, as every Lilith performance has, with a big group sing-along. The women amassed to belt out “Because the Night,” first made famous by its writers Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. But evidence of how green the tour still is, some of the performers held lyrics sheets and others read along off the prompter screens. With all the cheering done and thanks yous made, the women left the stage. The lights came up at precisely 11:01 p.m. and thousands of women streamed into the night.