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Alanis Takes Atlanta

by Paul Evans

Who: Alanis Morissette
Where: The Fox Theatre, Atlanta, Ga.
When: January 23, 1996

All minarets and Thief of Baghdad archways, Atlanta's Fox Theatre exemplifies Hollywood golden-age fantasy, but the venerable heap is rocking freshly as a crack quartet kicks off the quasi-Moorish intro to "All I Really Want." Then the song's writer -- pop's provocateur of the moment, Alanis Morissette -- bounds on stage. Wailing like a gleeful muezzin, she pitches into a 14-song, 90-minute set that confirms that the multiplatinum success of her American debut, Jagged Little Pill, is no accident.

A pastiche of distort-guitar, hip-hop rhythm, and folkie earnestness, the Grammy-nominated album has won a kind of Catcher in the Rye cachet: Its confessional urgency fires up the young and the restless. The smash single "You Oughta Know" has typecast the 21-year-old Canadian as one more Gen-X bleaknik in some circles. But live performance is the truer test of an artist's will, and in Atlanta, Morissette stood and delivered. She has been touring since June, the size of the venues expanding with each million copies of Pill sold, and the more than 4,500 fans at the Fox were primed. Twentysomething and younger, the crowd plunged unbidden into sing-alongs as Morissette spun out the hits. "You Oughta Know," rendered with a freshness not many singers muster for their chart busters; "Hand in My Pocket," with its defiant fecklessness; "You Learn," a Zen primer in acceptance and Morissette's mostly fully realized credo -- all gained intensity live. Her strong pipes were displayed in almost scatting abandon.

It helped, too, that as stage lights strafed the singer's mane, bronze blouse, and black satin pants, her young band -- drummer Taylor Hawkins, bassist Chris Chaney, and guitarists Jesse Tobias and Nick Lashley -- demonstrated vintage rock-star swagger. With Lashley spinning leads, Hawkins twirling sticks, and Tobias aping Slash's moves, the group proved to be casual masters of rock & roll dramatics.

While her band surged and laid back on cue, Morissette's zeal and unexpected tenderness rendered the evening graceful as well as hot. Ballads of entre nous spirit ("Perfect," "Mary Jane") prompted some of the show's highlights, and when, near its climax, the performer exultantly skipped around the stage, any perception of her as merely a poetess of the pissed off seemed ridiculous.

Serving up new material (the propulsive "King of Intimidation") or the best of Jagged Little Pill, Morissette, former Nickelodeon child star, came off as one canny pro. Reveling in both skill and soul, she moved to the lip of the stage, to the mouth of the crowd. And her joy was obvious. A-