Going Down!

Photo by Tenaya HillsALANIS MORISSETTE

Sounds no one will ever hear again echoing through the Orange County Performing Arts Center: Prince and Eminem on the pre-concert walk-in mixtape, and an audience loudly singing along to lines like “Would she go down on you in a theater?” and “Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?”

That's because pop concerts by still-in-their-prime artists are a real rarity at OCPAC, lest they take a night on the town away from the Center's bluehair subscribers. We were there for K.D. Lang years ago, but since then, contemporary bookings have been lagging (and people like Art Garfunkel and James Taylor do notcount).

What, then, to make of this Alanis Morissette show—still fashionable, or mere nostalgia? A little of both. She's still making new music, though none of it has sold anywhere close to what her gargantuan 1995 album JaggedLittlePilldid; I doubt very many in the crowd Sunday could've named even one song from her last album, So-CalledChaos,which came out a year ago and promptly stiffed. Her current tour plugs her new disc, JaggedLittlePillAcoustic, which is really just a song-by-song reworking of her greatest glory (and four of these songs have been heard in acoustic form already on her 1999 UnpluggedCD).

But damn, there's been tons of press about it, largely because the thing is being sold exclusively at Starbucks for six weeks, a moratorium that ends this Tuesday when you can also buy it in your local Tower. (Interesting, though, that Starbucks wouldn't carry Bruce Springsteen's Devils&Dustbecause of the “Two-fifty up the ass” line in “Reno,” yet Morissette's famous “Go down on you in a theater” utterance in “You Oughta Know” is perfectly fine; oral = good, anal = bad!) This deal has gotten certain retail people pissed, with a large chain in Canada even yanking her entire catalog. Workthatpublicity,girl!

And she has. If she were merely touring behind an album of all-new tunes, I don't think she could have packed as many people inside the OCPAC as she did—and this is a woman who filled up the Pond back in '99. People are talking about her now in ways they haven't since she walked away with the Album of the Year Grammy for the original Pill. Her renewed appeal may be one that's largely built on the wistful mid-'90s remembrances of her fans (she fed into this by flashing frequent video clips of old performances), but that's what they paid for, and if Morissette's new songs aren't really finding an audience, then why not whip out the decade-old ones that did and brand it a “Jagged LittlePill10th Anniversary Tour”?

Whether her creative future is in crafting new songs or hooking up on a Sounds of the '90s package tour with the forgotten Spin Doctors and Hootie is anyone's guess, but she'll always have her cult—the ones who nearly ruined the opening a cappella “Your House” by screaming through it. With “You Learn,” Morissette made it clear that this wasn't to be a night of soft, wispy music, as her muscular voice easily enveloped the hall. Her band took atypical instruments—a bunch of things we can't pronounce—and turned themselves into one of the loudest acoustic bands we've ever heard. Despite the severe nostalgia overtones to the evening, everything sounded surprisingly fresh and good. “Mary Jane” was rendered ethereal and beautiful; “Hands Clean,” one of a handful of non-Pill tunes, was nakedly heartbreaking; and the clenched-teeth drama of “Uninvited” was sufficiently unnerving. Ultimately, our personal distaste for nostalgia of this sort aside, it was an enthralling, captivating set. We aren't even really fans of hers all that much, but we're already planning to hit up the JaggedLittlePill20th Anniversary Tour.

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