Review by Dorothy Parvaz
Photography by Chuck Feces
Perhaps it was this anticipation for the headlining act that led to quite possibly the coldest reception an opening band could have received on a Friday night at a decent downtown venue. Or perhaps it was because said opening band, Melt, were a few notches below mediocre. In fact, if it wasn't for their drummer, they would've sucked.
Melt's vocalist was really aiming to sound like Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, and man did he ever fall short of that. Not that Malkmus' vocal stylings are the stuff of indie-rock wet dreams, but there is a certain quirkiness in his voice that makes Pavement's odd lyrics seem catchy. Whatever that je ne sais quoi is, Melt's vocalist just didn't have it. Not on this night, anyway. And those keyboards... cripes. They sounded like the last thing the victim in a gore-grade horror movie hears before being butchered by an ice pick/cleaver/chainsaw. Mix them with Melt's muddy guitars and the crowd's chilly response seems somewhat justified. In all fairness, audiences have been supportive of far worse bands... perhaps the divine Ms. Hatfield's fans expect a bit more. At any rate, having paid a steep $15 at the door, they clearly expected more and were pretty unforgiving.
Although a few people close to the stage politely stood and nodded, the band wasn't oblivious to the vibe. Somewhere near the end of their set, they announced that they would be moving to New York soon, and that this would be the last Vancouver would see of them for a while. The crowd seemed markedly unmoved by this news, and Melt was forgotten as soon as they left the stage. Everyone was too preoccupied with scrutinizing the roadies on stage, hoping to catch a glimpse of Juliana Hatfield, who made her way on to the stage with minimal hoopla and started off with "I Got No Idols."
Hatfield, who has split with her label (Mammoth) and since released Please Do Not Disturb, a six-song E.P on Bar/None, is shopping around for a label for the already-recorded God's Foot, which was supposed to be out last spring. (And, no, she didn't offer any sneak previews from God's Foot.) Experimental and edgy, Hatfield is a bundle of contradictions. She's awkward and poised at the same time, and even though she has one of the most expressive voices in pop, she somehow manages not to reveal too much about herself.
Hatfield and her band played a tight set (Hatfield's guitar playing gets better with each album, and bassist Mike Welsh was especially impressive), but there was something lacking in the performance. Hatfield seemed curiously removed from her own work. Her lyrics are so personal, but it's almost like she's singing someone else's songs. This ambiguous image is one that Hatfield actively cultivates, and she has said, time and time again, that she's not interested in explaining herself.
That enigmatic charm comes across in her music. The heavy guitar, the soft voice, the hot and cold lyrics... they're all part of an intriguing package. Although there's something to be said for leaving an audience wanting more, Hatfield almost left us feeling a little too hungry. True, she tore through "Addicted," "Sister" and other hits, but dammit, where were "Universal Heart-Beat," "Supermodel," "Ugly" and "Everybody Loves Me"?
An encore gave the audience a couple of more songs, but none of the aforementioned hits -- until Hatfield came on for a second encore and finally gave up "Ugly." Her voice is so frail that you had to wonder if she'd be able to complete the song. This of course, is a very deliberate part of the song's allure.
Like her or lump her, but give her this: as an artist, Juliana Hatfield is the genuine article.
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