Live: Juliana Hatfield Burns Brightly Onstage

Pop-punk songstress tries to enliven a typical Monday night crowd with serious feedback.

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" (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

again."

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-

smashing.

"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."

(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]