Review + Photos: Lilith Fair St. Louis, Featuring Mary J. Blige, Court Yard Hounds, Metric, Emmylou Harris, Sarah McLachlan, Friday, July 16
"This is so much better than I could have ever imagined," exclaimed Mary J. Blige, as the Lilith Fair crowd cheered wildly for her. The same could be said about yesterday's all-day show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. While negative publicity has dogged Lilith Fair all summer - in the form of artist cancellations, show cancellations and rumored low ticket sales -- the concert itself was solid. Better yet, the day's music wasn't enjoyable because of (or in spite of) gender; it was just enjoyable, period.
Jon Gitchoff Mary J. Blige, live at Lilith Fair
Blige stole the show with her 55-minute set. Wearing a jumpsuit with a strapless top that threatened to become a wardrobe malfunction - she even had to go offstage for more tape to hold it up at one point - the R&B diva had the entire pavilion up and dancing. (In fact, a large portion of the crowd seemed to come to Lilith just to see her.) The well-paced show focused heavily on Blige's later material, from the upbeat club jams ("Just Fine") and sleek R&B twinkles ("I Am," "Be Without You") to her mega-hits ("Family Affair," "No More Drama"). She frequently told the crowd that she "felt blessed" to share the night with them, and only occasionally did her voice falter on higher notes.
Because Blige was backed by a ten-piece(!) band comprised of four keyboardists(!!), four back-up singers, a drummer and a guitarist -- and because all of them were cranked high in the mix -- the sound could be occasionally overwhelming. But they were useful on her gospel-tinged cover of U2's "One," and a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" was jaw-dropping. Blige played up the tension and suspense in the moody parts of the song by restraining her voice -- and so by the time the song built to the frenzied, loud climax, she was warmed up enough to let loose. Crouching on the stage and glistening with sweat, she poured her entire self into the cover.
Court Yard Hounds' set also impressed. Fronted by two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, and backed by a five-piece band, the group mashed together country, bluegrass and rock. The live versions of songs from its self-titled release were fuller and livelier -- especially the jaunty, Aimee Mann-like "Then Again" and "It Didn't Make a Sound," which showed off Robison's banjo skills. New single "The Coast" was a sliver of breezy, California jangle-rock, and the mellower "Fear of Wasted Time" was gentle and moving.
Robison also flashed some serious guitar mojo on a heavy untitled new song, which had the lyrics, "I try to sing, but it comes out wrong." Maguire's livewire fiddle was equally vibrant, especially on the set-closing "Ain't No Son," during which two towheaded little girls (likely hers) came out to play shakers. Despite the (at times) weighty lyrical subject matter, the set was relaxed and fun - Robison said that Maguire won $500 at a casino when the Chicks opened for the Eagles a few weeks ago at Busch Stadium. And Maguire told a hilarious story about the time Robison's tube-top slipped down under one "bosom" when the Chicks opened for George Strait - and that her sister was wearing a "20-times-washed bra" instead of a fancy one.
Jon Gitchoff Court Yard Hounds live at Lilith Fair, July 16, 2010