Mother Nature couldn’t have been kinder to the near-sellout crowd gathered at the Rose Bowl on Saturday for the L.A. date of this year’s second Lilith Fair tour, the festival where females rule the day.
A bright sun and light breeze dominated afternoon sets from such standouts as Sinead O’Connor and Erykah Badu, while cool evening winds and a setting, orange-hued quarter moon nicely framed enjoyable turns from Sarah McLachlan — the multiplatinum Canadian singer who helped spearhead Lilith — and Natalie Merchant, who turned in the surprise set of the day.
A gigantic stage in the middle of the Bowl’s playing field (it took 20 hours to assemble and 10-1/2 to break down) was decorated with artwork depicting the angel-filled existence of Lilith, the mythical character who left the Garden of Eden to walk the Earth looking for adventure.
She would have found plenty at the Rose Bowl. O’Connor, once again sporting a shaved head, was her fiery and provocative old Irish self, quoting Cypress Hill lyrics and giggling between her powerful songs of devotion and strength.
Badu, sporting her trademark white head wrap, drew some of the event’s loudest reaction, as she punctuated her brash set of cool R&B with conversation about her newborn boy and other empowering anecdotes. “Three-hundred-sixty degrees of life, that’s what I represent,” she told the enchanted throng.
McLachlan expanded little on her exquisite show in December at Universal Amphitheater, except to demonstrate her increasing ability to touch the souls of individuals in large settings. While might not be able to hear all of the shouts of “I love you, Sarah” that greet her uplifting songs, she clearly made the audience feel as is she was singing directly to them.
Merchant — the former 10,000 Maniacs singer who could be seen before her set under a white sun umbrella talking to fans — was accidentally hit in the mouth by a large bunch of sunflowers thrown by a fan early in her set.
“That hurt like hell,” she said, “but they are beautiful.” The incident seemed to energize the usually passive stage performer, whose 50-minute set featured music from her new “Ophelia” album.
The rocking hour-long set by Indigo Girls, while the sun went down, was the all-star spot in the program. Guests included actress Ellen DeGeneres and Blues Traveler’s John Popper, who blew some mean harp; and second-stage musicians Tara McLean and Billie Myers joined the band. But it was Emily Salier’s sharp guitar play, including a nifty acoustic slide portion, that stole the set.
Guys were in short supply in the audience; fights, thrown bottles, mosh pits and bad vibes were altogether absent. Instead, a good-natured, celebratory mood that encouraged people to express themselves was the order of the day, meaning this tour succeeds on levels beyond financial and musical.
Also in contrast to many all-day affairs, very few people left before the headliner performed. And though McLachlan’s tender ballads might have seemed a bit anticlimactic, it’s safe to say few in the stadium felt short-changed in any way.