It was a rare treat to see Annie in concert. (10/11/07)
During Annie Lennox's performance Thursday at the Wilshire Theatre, at least three songs did not receive standing ovations. That may have been because the crowd was already on its feet. The ardor with which the powerhouse singer's fans greeted this rare tour stop was just what a legendary leading lady would expect, even if there were still a few kinks in her routine.
Lennox is one of pop's most venerated singers, envied by aspiring prima donnas and zealously supported by her cult. She's released only four solo CDs since Eurythmics, her band with Dave Stewart, dissolved long ago, and her musical style hasn't evolved much since. Her new album, "Songs of Mass Destruction," explores her usual extremes of grief, despair, moral righteousness and perseverance in settings that mix power balladry with a club sound still evocative of the 1980s. But to criticize Lennox for repeating herself would be to misunderstand her mission.
She sang a mix of Eurythmics hits along with her solo work. (10/11/07)
At the Wilshire, it was crystal clear: Lennox lifted her fans up into a drama that recast ordinary pain as a heroic struggle. She was their stand-in and their champion. Her florid body language reminded everyone that this was a ritual providing transcendence. Her extraordinary alto somehow matched timelessness with urgency. Committing to every note, Lennox made each song a sacrifice, and each climax a cry of survival.
Images of a younger Lennox, taken from promotional videos, flashed behind the 52-year-old singer and her band as they barreled through a career-spanning set. Some new songs stood out, especially the colossal "Smithereens," with its solemn pronouncement of "everybody is an island to themselves" (a diva line if there ever was one!) and "Ghosts in My Machine," which put Lennox in full soul-sister mode. But Lennox's greatest hits are hard to beat, and the night's crowning moments were a disco-fabulous version of the Eurythmics classic "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and a subdued, tender reading of "Why," her biggest solo hit.
We had 2nd row seats in the balcony. (10/11/07)
A less self-assured artist would have structured the night around those favorites. Not Lennox. Though she's duetted with Aretha Franklin, onstage she's more like Nina Simone was: imperious, absorbed, doing what she damn well pleases. She barely spoke between songs, though at one point she greeted a fan holding a flower boa with a grin and a little dance. She didn't bother with major costume changes either, switching only from a black sequined top to a brown satin one.
Lennox did take time to show a video promoting her new charity single, "Sing," which unites the voices of 23 female pop stars (including Madonna, KT Tunstall, Joss Stone and Faith Hill) to raise awareness about the plight of African women with AIDS. At the Wilshire, Lennox had only her backup singers to raise the anthem, but she did her best after giving a preacherly little speech about her commitment to the cause.
She addresses African women with AIDS during "Sing." (10/11/07)
Her voice rang out loud and clear during "Sing," but at other points she was somewhat buried by her band. It may have been the sound at the cavernous old Wilshire, but the mix didn't serve Lennox that well; the synthesizers were too bright and the guitars generic, and her backup singers sometimes overpowered her. It's not easy to veil Lennox's vocals, but if she meant for the band to do so, she should reconsider. More moments like the few she spent alone at a baby grand piano would add warmth to her performance.
When the modern-rock din died down, a rougher edge in Lennox's voice became evident. She sounded weary and raw on the barren ballad "Pavement Cracks," but the gravel in her throat only added to her charisma. Lennox shouldn't be afraid of letting her vocal weaknesses show; she's skilled enough to use those quirks to her advantage. Instead, she's hiding them behind a wall of synths.
Annie closes the show with "Why." (10/11/07)
Lennox has no need to hide. She can grow older any way she likes; her devotees will only love her more. They don't even mind when she treats them mean. After her moving rendition of "Why," she flashed a quick grin and said, "That's it folks -- go home!" She followed that with a quick chuckle and an expletive. Her believers, ever guided by her voice, turned around and left.