Almost two decades have passed since Alanis Morissette earned national acclaim with her breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill. For Americans, Morissette seemed to appear out of nowhere, but few realized her radical transformation from child star to rock star. After appearing as a regular cast member on the Canadian kids show You Can’t Do That on Television, she evolved into Canada’s answer to Debbie Gibson. Her first change came by relocating to Los Angeles; the second was collaborating with rock producer Glen Ballard. By the time “You Oughta Know” hit radio, Morissette became the “angry young woman,” the spokesperson for those who had been scorned. Her star may have dimmed somewhat since then, but her anger and passion remain. Those qualities are on full display on the new DVD Alanis Morissette Live at Montreux 2012.
Backed by a stellar group of musicians, Morissette prowls the stage just as she did in the mid-1990s. Looking virtually unchanged, she treats the audience to music from Jagged Little Pill to her latest album Havoc and Bright Lights. Not surprisingly, the crowd responds most to the hits, but she provides the audience with glimpses of her transition to marriage and motherhood. As she sings “You Learn,” she grins as if reminiscing about her youth. Holding the microphone over the audience, the fans sing much of “Ironic” back to her, signaling the impact that song and album had on listeners.
Her five-piece band rocks hard throughout the show, adding extra punch to “Numb,” “Versions of Violence,” and “Citizen of the Planet”; bassist Cedric LeMoyne and drummer Victor Indrizzo deserve particular recognition. When Morissette finally performs “You Oughta Know,” she summons the same anger as in the original. Yet when she closes the show with “Thank U,” one realizes how she has matured and mellowed during her many years in the music business. In addition, Morissette clearly knows how to connect with female fans--when she croons “Uninvited,” one can hear voices singing along with the lines “But you, you're not allowed / You're uninvited” with sincerity.
As with many of the Montreux videos, the concert is filmed in a refreshingly straightforward, no-frills manner. Except for a few awkward shots (repeated closeups of Morissette’s clasped hands and her guitarist’s alarmingly pink sneakers), the DVD provides a sense of the give and take between artist and audience. One of the best moments occurs toward the end, when she sings the first verses of “Hand in My Pocket” in an “unplugged” manner (acoustic guitars and soft drums her only accompaniment). A hush falls over the audience as they hear her mouth the words, her voice remaining remarkably intact after many years. For a moment, she and the crowd are transported back to their younger days in 1995.
Morissette fans will enjoy Live at Montreux 2012, her first live release in a decade. While it may not convert new listeners, her longtime admirers should appreciate hearing how her music has changed and how her voice has remained exactly the same.