|Orange County Register||Annie Lennox arrives in SoCal on a mission
Review: Yet she confined her message, about AIDS-ravaged Africa, to the encore of her hits-heavy show in Beverly Hills.
By BEN WENER
The Orange County Register
Opportunities to hear Annie Lennox sing live are not to be passed up if at all possible.
In large part that's because such moments come so infrequently. Before her impressive appearance Thursday night at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, the Scottish singer – unquestionably among the greatest living voices, and one of the most soulful ever to emerge outside of R&B – had treated SoCal audiences to only five performances in more than a decade.
Three of them, including the only stop in Orange County (her first since the mid-'80s), found Lennox opening for and briefly singing with fellow icon Sting. Her sole solo headlining date was a master-class performance in May 2003 at UCLA's Royce Hall. Before that, there was only her evident joy alongside old partner Dave Stewart at Staples Center in November 1999, when Eurythmics, always up for supporting a cause, reunited for a limited series of shows benefiting Amnesty International.
And that was the first time the seemingly down-to-earth sophisticate (who nonetheless named her solo debut "Diva") had served up a proper performance in Los Angeles since the last Eurythmics tour nine years earlier.
You can see why some fans gladly would have paid triple for the $100 seat I had toward the back of the intimate Wilshire. (Lennox mentioned she had played there years ago, by the way – around '82, I'd guess, seeing as she recalled singing Sam & Dave's "Wrap It Up," a staple of the duo's early days. "It has a certain je ne sais quoi," she said of the underused hall.)
You also can understand why Lennox received one rapturous ovation after another here. Not only do her vocals tend to overwhelm the spirit – her expertly controlled acrobatics and impassioned delivery can have the inspirational impact of primo Aretha Franklin – but the rarity of encountering such a powerful force only enriches its potency in person. In such a small space, it's no wonder certain climaxes got some people to virtually leap from their seats.
I had my own moment of awe. As Lennox ended "Cold," perhaps her most emotionally ravaged piece, she resolved the melody not by landing on the root note but slipping instead to a sweetly unsettling major seventh. Then she effortlessly sustained it for what felt like a minute, though it couldn't possibly have been half as long.
It's for such sublime details that I clear my calendar whenever she comes to town.
Another reason: There's no telling what her show will be like.
This one is admittedly baffling at first, if pleasantly so. Just last week Lennox issued her third post-Eurythmics assortment of new material. With a title like "Songs of Mass Destruction" you'd think it would be the centerpiece of a show ultimately driven by her urging wealthy Western nations to bring medical help to ever-impoverished, AIDS-plagued Africa. Yet, for all its universalism, "Mass Destruction" is basically a darker counterpart to 2003's already bereft "Bare," two forlorn, intimately personal projects Lennox didn't seem entirely eager to share much from this time.
At Royce, she turned such heavy matters into an unflinching examination of both her own love life (she was then grappling with her second divorce) and the pitfalls of romantic entanglements in general. At the Wilshire, however, she was less an artist recharting the map of her heart than an entertainer with a purpose.
The four new songs she featured certainly suited her world-in-crisis outlook and act-now advocacy. "Smithereens," for instance, though mainly about how the prevalence of broken hearts, was adorned with fuzzy images of mushroom-cloud devastation. And "Sing," a rousing anthem that on record has the support of a choir comprising 23 female stars – among them Madonna, Sarah McLachlan, k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, Gladys K
|LA Times||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.
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.
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.
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.
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 fl