Alanis Morissette, Bush Hall, London; <br/>Liars, Mean Fiddler, London

Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Elaine Paige
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The Independent Culture

They're dancing in the streets of Shepherds Bush tonight. Queens Park Rangers have been promoted back into the First Division, and large men in blue and white hoops are staggering, drinking, dancing, singing and vomiting the length of Uxbridge Road.

They're dancing in the streets of Shepherds Bush tonight. Queens Park Rangers have been promoted back into the First Division, and large men in blue and white hoops are staggering, drinking, dancing, singing and vomiting the length of Uxbridge Road.

A smaller sub-tribe is lined up outside the doorway of Bush Hall, anxiously scouting around for spare tickets. The object of their committed fandom is making her own small-scale comeback tonight. Alanis Morissette is inside, and about to play "her most intimate full-live band performance on these shores".

The majority of tonight's audience are industry movers and shakers, moving and shaking industriously. The devotees who have made it inside Bush Hall are tearful and choked up with emotion. For the life of me, I'm struggling to see why.

Morissette bursts out fighting - smaller than you imagine (they always are) - covered in sequins and clenching one lace gloved fist and blasting away on a mouth organ, while stern-faced musos pogo behind her. It's an impressive entrance.

Once the bluster has died down, however, and you begin to contemplate the actual songs on show - mostly from her new album, So Called Chaos - you're left wondering what Alanis Morissette is actually for. Musical history will record her as a footnote: the woman who innovated the pronunciation of the word "you" as "yaow" among female singers. That is her legacy. Just as there will always be a market for middle-to-lowbrow chick lit, there will always be some kind of audience for outwardly feisty, but inwardly rather wet singers like Morissette (you just know that the loathsome Scarlett Johansson character from Lost in Translation would own several Alanis CDs).

The toughness she attempts to exude is always punctured by her own hands. For "This Grudge", standing caught in the crossfire of two Lloyd-Webber-musical spotlights while pianist Zachary plonks away, she's a cigarette paper from Elaine Paige. Underneath it all, Alanis is fundamentally showbiz, her Sarah Jessica Parker smile beaming with faux humility as she tells us "Thank you, thank you so much, I'm so pleased to be here." When she dedicates a song to "my sweet boyfriend who's here tonight", the game's up. For a moment, you think there might be some barbs and claws to come, but the song in question is called "Knees Of My Bees", and is more sickly than a gallon of Angel Delight.

She encores with the hits. "You Oughta Know" is, undeniably, a thrilling, hackles-raising woman-scorned anthem. "Thank You", however, is wretched, and as for "Ironic", it's been said before, but rain on your wedding day, or a free ride when you've already paid, does not come under the definition of irony. It's just a bit of a pisser.

Two or three centuries ago, Alanis Morissette would have been burned at the stake or seen off with the ducking stool. Practices such as these are the subject matter of They Were Wrong So We Drowned, the second album by the strange and fascinating Liars. The artiest, most interesting act to arise from the New York punk-funk scene have made an entire concept album about witchcraft, ostensibly inspired by the German coming-of-spring festival Walpurgisnacht, although the presumably Wizard Of Oz-referencing "Steam Rose From The Lifeless Cloak" hints at more pop-cultural sources. (Memorable titles are their stock-in-trade: this is a band whose debut album was called They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, with an opening track named "Grown Men Don't Fall In The River Just Like That".)

Their current live set is dominated by They Were Wrong... material, and therefore errs on the side of unlistenability (the second album being somewhat more discordant than the simpler, funkier first), but it's never less than watchable.

The accompanying performance has many subtle hints of magick and Wiccan ritual. Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Pat Noecker alternately huddle intently over switches and dials, or hurl themselves maniacally about the stage during songs (or even in the silence between songs, in the case of drummer Ron Albertson, who leaps into a bemused Mean Fiddler crowd while wearing a circus strongman's golden toga). At all times, though, there's an eerie vacuum centre stage, as though they are hoping that something will manifest itself. If they're not careful, next time it might be Alanis.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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