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    Lilith Fair - A Celebration Of Women In Music

    Image Entertainment/Warner Vision . R4 . COLOR . 90 mins . M15+ . PAL


    While spoken about derisively by some - for what reason is anyone’s guess - the Lilith Fair concept did a great deal for the profile of female music artists in the US and Canada over the three years that it ran. The concept was blindingly simple, as all great ideas are. Frustrated by the limited opportunities for female artists (both new and established) on radio, television and on tour, Canadian singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan set in motion a large-scale touring festival with a difference - it would showcase only female artists, and it would mix the well-known with the up-and-coming to give audiences as broad a cross-section as possible of the many and varied styles that these artists played. “Ah,” I hear you say. “But that’s just sexism in reverse!” Well, not exactly. The music industry has long been male-dominated, and a look at any major-label artist roster is evidence enough of that. But the point of Lilith Fair was not to exclude males - far from it. In fact, the members of the various artists’ bands on the tour captured on this DVD are almost entirely male, as is much of the assembled audience. Indeed, the entire idea was never intended to be overtly political at all - it was made that way by many of those who commented on it over the years, but to Sarah McLachlan and her fellow artists, it was simply a chance to put like-minded artists on stage together and, through the widespread fame of “stars” like McLachlan, Sheryl Crow and Jewel, to introduce lesser-known artists to a wide audience for the first time.

    This DVD, while not especially generous with information about venues, dates and suchlike, appears to be a revised version of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television production based around the initial 1997 Lilith Fair tour (in fact, the opening credits bill this one as a “Special Edition”) with much of the footage - but quite obviously not all of it - shot at the Molson Amphitheatre shows in Toronto in August 1997. The format here is part documentary and part performance - a format that manages to squeeze 16 songs into the 90 minute running time, with interview footage separating each one. Only six of the tour’s artists are featured - Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Meredith Brooks, Sheryl Crow, the Indigo Girls and Shawn Colvin - but many more appear in the interview clips, including Paula Cole, Lisa Loeb and even ‘70s and ‘80s star Pat Benatar. It would of course have been nice to see performances by these artists as well - but the artists performing at each show differed substantially across the tour, and while it was simple enough to capture material backstage on home video camcorders, few of the shows were professionally captured on tape.

    Along with interviews, the backstage footage includes some wonderful moments - the artists rehearsing before heading out on stage, working out collaborative song ideas on the fly, and of course just generally playing around. All of this really helps bring out the nature of the tour - the performances are one thing, but this tour quite obviously meant as much to those who were a part of as it did to those who went along to see it.

    Musically, there’s a lot to like here - though obviously, not everyone’s going to have the same favourites. For this reviewer, Sarah McLachlan’s three songs - especially the astonishing Angel - were the standouts, her voice as astonishing as ever and her band playing to perfection (if you like these songs and want more, do track down Sarah’s remarkable live DVD Mirrorball, available locally). But there’s also crunchy rock (Meredith Brooks), country-rock (Sheryl Crow), country-folk (Indigo Girls), folk-rock-country (Shawn Colvin) and of course heartfelt balladry (Jewel) on the menu here.

    The only real criticism is a slight lack of musical diversity when compared to the actual tour (and Lilith Fair became even more musically diverse in subsequent years, too), but what you’re getting here is essentially the headliners from the 1997 tour doing two or three songs each and collaborating on a few as well, the songs well chosen. You’re also getting a mini-documentary that’s all the better for not having been filmed by professionals - backstage footage has rarely seemed so genuine and unpretentious.


    Produced for broadcast television and containing large chunks of camcorder-shot material, this one’s obviously not a candidate for the widescreen treatment. But fear not - the full-frame video here is pristine and just about perfect, easily broadcast quality in every way. With richly saturated colour and spot-on detail and sharpness, this is in every way as good as watching the master tapes that were used for the TV version. There’s not a compression artefact to be found - in fact, no artefacts of any kind crop up at any point to distract from the show. The Sheryl Crow footage is of noticeably lower quality - particularly her last song I Shall Believe, which has serious contrast problems along with some video interference or noise - but what you’re seeing here is as it was captured for television, and you couldn’t ask for a better representation of this material on DVD.

    Incidentally, although the packaging claims this disc to be a “DVD9”, this is in fact a packed-to-capacity single-layered DVD.


    Here’s the (slightly) controversial part. The default audio track here is a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround affair, and while it’s very nicely mixed and offers discrete channels and subtle sub-bass without ever seeming unnatural, those listening to that track in two-channel downmixed form are in for a nasty surprise. For some reason - possibly a problem with phase between channels - this track produces some serious problems when downmixed to stereo or Dolby Surround, with the stereo stage severely directed towards the right channel and with lead vocals and other centre-channel material ending up all over the place - including the surrounds. A close look at a sample of the actual 5.1 audio stream in a multichannel sound editor doesn’t reveal the reason for this, but it’s well worth being aware of if you’re in the majority that still listen to their DVDs in stereo or Pro-Logic surround.

    Luckily, a 2.0 stereo track is provided as well, and this is the track to choose unless you have a 5.1 system. Subjectively, this is a better mix anyway - it’s clearer, less fussy and more dynamic. These live audio mixes are generally excellent, particularly on the Sarah McLachlan songs; despite the lossy encoding, they’re easily the equal of any audio CD, and are mastered at a suitably decent level.


    With only a single-layer disc to play with, there are (not surprisingly) no extra features at all on this disc, with the exception of a song-selection menu that also provides handy capsule titles for the chaptered interview and backstage segments. The static menu design is simple but efficient (and strangely incorporates the awful Universal “icons” that are despised by most of the planet!) and themed nicely around the front cover’s graphic design.


    If the prospect of seeing some of North America’s finest artists playing to perfection appeals to you, you’ll be more than delighted with the Lilith Fair disc. A good, if understandably cursory record of the 1997 tour, it’s likely to leave fans of all the artists here wanting more - but more importantly, it may well introduce some of these artists to people for the first time. And with all involved performing at their peak, there’s no better introduction.

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      And I quote...
    "If the prospect of seeing some of North America’s finest artists playing to perfection appeals to you, you’ll be more than delighted..."
    - Anthony Horan
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