SAN FRANCISCO -- The magnitude of any star is determined by how
bright it shines.
Since her debut with the Boston-based Blake Babies in the late '80s, Juliana
Hatfield has matured musically, carving her own path in the treacherous jungles
of the rock-music industry.
As part of a two-month tour of the United States and Canada, Hatfield
performed last Monday night (Dec. 1) at the Great American Music Hall. And while she
shined brightly onstage through most of the night, her glow, unfortunately, was
wasted on a sparse and unenthusiastic crowd. "Many students are studying
tonight, and couldn't make it to the gig," 20-year-old Christina Rodriguez of
Sacramento, Calif. explained as she waited for Hatfield to take the stage.
Despite the poor scheduling, 300-plus Hatfield fans turned out to see their
alternative-rock angel back onstage. Opening for Hatfield was Mecca Normal, a
duo hailing from Vancouver, Canada, who performed original material fused
with a Western-folk sound that was peppered with influences by the classic
rockers, the Who and Led Zeppelin.
With the '80s new-wave song "In a Big Country" blaring out of the house
speakers, Hatfield at last appeared, stepping into a deep-red haze that filled the
stage. She treated fans to a 90-minute, 21-song set, dipping into her musical
catalogue dating back to the first Blake Babies album, Earwig. Thanking
the crowd for coming out, Hatfield started off with
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Hatfield,_Juliana/I_Got_No_Idols.ram">"I Got No Idols"
Got No Idols"(RealAudio excerpt) from Become What You Are.
Her shoulder-length brown hair hung over her face, swinging to and fro as she
dodged the mic. Hatfield struggled initially to be heard above the drumming of
Todd Philips, the throbbing bass of Mike Walsh and Lisa Mednick's keyboards,
but was largely drowned out by the mix.
Fighting to be heard, it seemed, she played jarringly heavy chords, mixed with
some delicately flavored, psychedelic wah-wah sounds on her new song, "Fade
Away." Fans, for the most part, remained immobile, however; a fact not lost upon
22-year-old Bradford Griffith, who was visiting from Australia. "The crowds over
here are like wooden poles. I couldn't believe how dead the crowd was. Juliana
deserved much more," he said.
While body movement was kept to a minimum, the crowd's enthusiasm seemed
to peak when Hatfield ripped into one of her bigger hits, "Spin the Bottle." The
short, infectious groove perked up everyone's ears, as even Mednick's
background vocals shone-through now on the song's refrain, "turn around
Hatfield later treated fans to a soft arrangement of "My Darling," from Only
Everything, a song that she said she wrote while staying at the Phoenix
Hotel in San Francisco. While her presence is somewhat diminutive onstage,
Hatfield thrills to the sounds of her own punk roots, punching out her trademark
short-but-finely-crafted songs. Her tendency to return to these early-'80s roots
showed through several times as she turned her back to the audience to
summon screeching feedback from her amps.
Late in the night, Hatfield asked fans what they wanted to hear, and amid a
barrage of requests, the band thundered into "Get Off" from Please Do Not
Disturb, with Philips providing explosive bass-drumming and cymbal-
"Sellout," a tune that stresses the importance of artistic integrity, also
showcased Hatfield's driving-grunge sound.
But the night's highlight came in the first of two encores, in which Hatfield
played the hauntingly beautiful solo version of
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Hatfield,_Juliana/ Trying_Not_To_Think_About_It.ram">"Trying Not To Think About It."
Trying_Not_To_Think_About_It.ram">"Trying Not To Think About It."
(RealAudio excerpt) Her soft voice and gentle guitar strums were so enrapturing
that it was easy to become lost in the sound.
But as soon as she launched into the next number, her anthem on self-loathing,
"Ugly," the spell was broken.
For her final number, Hatfield brought the band back out and performed a
snappy version of "Take Your Head Off My Shoulder" from the Blake Babies'
debut, Earwig. While some in the crowd seemed less-than-inspired that
night, for others, it was a memorable showing by a true star.
"Juliana is a rad woman, and I was inspired tonight to go back and start playing
my guitar again," said 18-year-old Leslie Jackson of San Francisco, who was
seeing Hatfield for the first time. [Tues., Dec. 9, 1997,
9 a.m. PST]