Annie Lennox Goes Mild at SMU

I wasn't planning on writing anything on Annie Lennox's concert that took place last Sunday at McFarland Auditorium. I figured I'd just keep it my dirty little secret; something known only to me and the gay guy who went with me. I dunno—even though for the most part I find indie rock elitism and disdain for pop music to be both snooty and an obstruction to truly enjoying music, ol' Annie is just mom. Selling my soul for press comps to, say, a Britney Spears concert at least carries with it pop culture relevance and a thick sheen of protective irony, but being swept up in two hours of sincere MILF-rock on the SMU campus is nothing I want to own up to in print.

But, hell, as with pets or venereal disease, sometimes these things choose you; the whole thing was so oddly fascinating, I realized after the show that an Annie analysis is inescapable.

For one thing, I plunked my ass down in the cozy (read: uncomfortably close together) seats in the second-to-last row of the auditorium almost exactly 24 hours after seeing Elizabeth: The Golden Age, in which Kate Blanchett is so fucking awesome!, so I already felt particularly receptive to the close-cropped blonde British Isles lady aesthetic.

The crowd broke down approximately along these lines: 65 percent bald gay men, 29 percent MILFs, 5 percent lesbians, 1 percent miscellaneous/undecided. (I mention this not only so you get an idea of the demographics but also to defend myself from accusations of lack of coolness. After all, while MILF and lesbians' taste is often dubious, even older gay guys know what's cool, so I felt I was in OK territory to some extent.) The atmosphere was decidedly sterile. No smoking! No drinking! No food! Do not spit on the marble floor! Do not stare at the co-eds! Do not look directly into the gleam of the polished maple banister, lest your retinas be burned beyond repair! The best part was the poor black guy half-heartedly waving his metal detector wand at the khaki-clad crotches of white people; the look on his face clearly read, Really?

Really. The trek to the nosebleeds, by the way, was Everest-steep, but nowhere near as chilly; I don't know if the air-conditioner was broken or if the some sort of preppy air-suck was at work, but more than one soccer mom suffered from Mac products melting across her visage. So, what's up with that, SMU? You'd think if you could afford a useless George W. Bush library, you could throw a vent up in that piece.

Nonetheless, all this was forgotten when Lennox took the stage. Even from our crappy seats, her short, bleach-blonde andro-'do was pretty much all the décor the stage needed. Which was a good thing, since the rest of the visuals were, to put it plainly, stark. Lennox stood way, way out in front, with her able band—with two backup singers, a bass player, guitarist, drummer and keyboard player manning a giant bank of synths—filling the back part of the stage. As Lennox launched into "No More I Love Yous," it was obvious her voice is just as fierce and striking as her blonde hair/90-degree cheekbone look. And, it was obvious said voice was going to have to be strong enough to carry the show.

Strong enough, because Lennox's show suffered from a lack of imagination one wouldn't expect from such a strange and intense persona. While her voice is drenched in R&B and soul, it also carries with it a sort of Kate Bush edginess, in addition to its piercing, gorgeous strength. Sadly, her arrangements teetered a bit on the Broadway side of things—a cop-out, really. Yes, they proved professional and zippy enough, but they fell so short of their potential, like a genius kid making a C+ in algebra. Her version of "Here Comes the Rain Again" involved merely her voice and her piano, a combo that should have killed....but it dragged. There were a couple of other tunes that flowed along nicely...until a pointless and bland though perfectly competent guitar solo brought the momentum down. Also: The woman can't dance. She has an awkward stage presence, and, clad in a kind of frumpy spangled dress and black leggings, she danced in geeky jerks and side-to-side steps, like someone's buzzed aunt at a wedding reception.

Thing is, if Lennox had embraced that side of herself, that New Wave weirdo we all first met in the '80s, this show could have shot through the stratosphere from merely good to star-shattering. If Lennox had chosen to follow an artistic vision that is probably closer to her heart—that is, one that capitalized on the more jagged edges of her stunningly intense melodies, one that played up her herky-jerky awkwardness...well, it could have been brilliant.

Still, the voice. It defeated any negativity I could have felt about what might have been, as it first flew slowly, the frenetic and staccato like a hummingbird, through genres and melodies and heartbreak lyrics. That voice could melt an iceberg, or, if Lennox chose to wield it more sharply, crack it open, leaving serrated edges of ice floating though frigid waters. The soccer moms loved it, and the gay boys, even more so.

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Jonanna Widner
Contact: Jonanna Widner

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