Show of strength
Tuesday, Nov. 18. Lee's Palace. BY C.J. O'CONNOR
For one brief heartbeat in the decade's early days, the culture went dizzyingly sane; a Sassy subscription in every girl's stocking, a guitar in every chickstar's hand and in every active mind the conviction that Girl Power was just not measurable in platform-heel thickness. L7 had the riffs, Bratmobile had the zines, Liz Phair had the, um, ironic sexuality. But way up in Duxbury, Mass., Juliana Hatfield had something much, much more.
She had the sugar-seeming voice, the quasi-teenagerisms and poptastic chord progressions but put them to self-doubt ("Ugly"), isolation ("Outsider") and obsessive self-control ("Feed Me" and its opener "Oh, baby, if you only knew/ Now I'm down to 102"). She also had -- in "Nirvana" and "Spin The Bottle"-- the purest moments of joy. She had a beauty that ratty jeans and Texaco-station shirts only intensified. She was, in short, brilliantly complex and contradictory, and when she slipped off Mammoth/Atlantic and into two years' near-silence after Only Everything, some of us nearly had to go on lithium.
But sometimes, when you really, really need them, your heroes come back...
Lee's Palace, Nov. 18th, pre-soundcheck: "It's like a deliberate bit of hibernation," muses Juliana, thoughtfully blowing a Bazooka-bubble the size of her head. "Too much of the industry can wear at your soul, so I just took some time to work on my music without any scrutiny. I did do some tours of Australia, I had some gigs on Lilith Fair, and I've kept playing... just not so much in the public eye. I'm gaining strength, so I'll be able to put this record out and go into the world and bring it to the people, y'know? I will have built up enough strength and thick skin to be able to do that better next time."
Two years' freedom from Are-You-Really-A-Virgin? and What's-That-Dando-Guy-Like? have helped her create her predictably awesome new EP on Bar None, Please Do Not Disturb (a foretaste of her nearly completed album). They've also helped her re-evalute -- and, on "Sellout," articulate -- her ambivalence about that ole soul-crusher, the music industry. That song is "pointing the finger at someone who's letting himself -- or herself -- be taken advantage of," she says. "But I think it's more sympathetic than 'Rider' [a stab at groupies ca. '93] cos I'm saying I could see how that could happen, how someone could lose themselves by listening to someone who's really convincing, but having it backfire and winding up worse off than at the beginning. I think I'm sympathetic to that, cos I see it happening to people I know... and people I don't know. It happens all the time, and I think it's really sad and I don't want it to happen to me."
Lee's Palace, Showtime: No worries, Jules: Lee's is jammed. And out she comes, radiant in battered Docs, jeans of no-fixed-color-tonality and sky-blue Airforce shirt. She strolls nonchalantly forward, belts on her old-faithful SG and counts her Devo-suited sidemen into "I Got No Idols." All hearts surge toward the woman swaying side-to-side in some world of her own invention which -- still -- connects from the second she pushes That Voice into the sugar-coated stratosphere. Sudden roars of applause and then -- even more suddenly -- silence. We're too overawed to speak.
"You're all so quiet," she teases, before heading into "Outsider." "But that's cool. I do that. Even if I really love the band I'll just... stand there."
We need no goading. "Fleur de Lys," "Dumb Fun" and most of Only Everything spring forth, sparks utterly undimmed, to huge applause but paradoxically timid whoops (we are still, after all, Juliana Hatfield fans). We get "My Sister" and a heart-knotting solo "Spin The Bottle," and Jules -- modest, sideways-glancing, teenager-voiced yet still indomitable -- is there, back centrestage, just daring anyone to take it away from her. Captain Hatfield... my hero.