ALANIS MORISSETTE ★★★½ ICC Sydney Theatre, January 24
There was a moment during the symphonic rock ballad Uninvited when the music stopped and Alanis Morissette’s voice reached a crescendo so powerful it was hard to imagine the spine would ever stop tingling. That was in October 1999, when she was at her most imperious. Teenage me, down from the country to see Garbage, was left awe-struck.
Nothing quite matched those dizzying heights in Sydney this week, but the fact she came close on a couple of occasions was impressive. It was also something of a relief – Morissette’s first visit to Australia this century may have been briefer and less bombastic than the last tour, but it was no disappointment.
Seated throughout the intimate, almost mellow acoustic set during which she was flanked only by two acoustic guitarists, she flipped between the inescapable earworms from the Jagged Little Pill juggernaut of the late ’90s and the few hits she has had since. Opener You Learn was made for nostalgia decades ago, although she surprised those singing along with a few ad libs, and there were early cheers for the harmonica solos on All I Really Want. She didn’t stretch her legs, but her lungs got a full workout as she hit all the wild notes of yore.
The acoustic setting worked best for Morissette’s less celebrated gems. Fan favourite Mary Jane and Everything from 2004’s So-Called Chaos held their own against the hits – duelling guitarists Jason Orme and Julian Coryell did a fine job without interfering in such moments. On Uninvited, however, they were found wanting during the climax.
Of Canada’s chart-topping superstars in the late ’90s, Morissette always had the virtue of not being Celine Dion. But she was everywhere, and no song was more divisive than Ironic – which single-handedly provided a dozen new definitions of what irony is not. “This next song is for anyone who has written a song with a malapropism in it and had their ass kicked for 22 years,” Morissette joked. “Oh, that’s just me.” Enough time has passed that we can almost sing along unironically.
The highlight was break-up anthem You Oughtta Know, before ending with Thank You, which has aged well. For the most part, however, Morissette was older, wiser, and less about angst than sharing the love. The same could also be said of the crowd.