Words: Will Stroude
"You saved my life, Alanis!" came a cry from the depths of the adoring crowd at Alanis Morissette's unplugged set at London's O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire on Wednesday night (4 March), marking 25 years since the release of the Canadian singer-songwriter's magnum opus, Jagged Little Pill.
It was probably only a slight exaggeration. That mammoth 1995 record, which has since shifted over 30 million copies worldwide, established Morissette as the musical guru of a generation of angsty girls and gays, tying the confessional lyrical tradition of '90s coffee house songwriting with a grungy alt-rock edge and influencing a generation of pop heavyweights, from Katy Perry and Haim to Lorde and Avril Lavigne, in the process.
Having never quite recaptured the success of that record, and with an eighth album due for release and a world tour coming this autumn, you'd understand if Morissette wanted to keep her mic firmly pointed at the future, but this run of live 45-year-old revel in her former glories for an audience of die-hards.
Flanked by two acoustic guitars and seated throughout, a serene Morissette allowed her impeccable musicality to do the majority of the talking in London, setting the tone for the night with an arresting rendition of Jagged Little Pill's secret closing track 'Your House' and allowing her trademark yelping vocals to soar on beloved cuts like 'You Learn' and 'All I Really Want'.
Interspersed with hits including 2002's nostalgic 'Hands Clean' and the haunting 'Univited', the warts-and-all fury, self-doubt, and optimism of Jagged Little Pill - which recently spawned a jukebox Broadway musical - was laid bare in the stripped-back setting.
Whether dealing with a friend’s depression on ‘Mary Jane’, taking a pop at parental pressures on ‘Perfect’, or eviscerating lecherous record execs on ‘Right Through You’ - “you took me out to wine-dine-69 me, and didn’t hear a damn word I said” - there’s a reason Morisette's lyrics continue to resonate with audiences two and half decades later.
The roaring sing-a-long which accompanied closing hits like ‘You Oughta Know’, ‘Thank U’ and ‘Ironic’, brought to a rousing close what was an otherwise intimate and reflective hour and a half, and, in a knowing nod to her committed LGBTQ fanbase, Morissette even injected a little queer twist into one of the latter track’s most famous lyrics: "It’s meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful... husband”.
Those aforementioned vocals were the night’s true revelation though, with Morissette effortlessly tearing through the yelps, yodels, and vocal idiosyncrasies of Jagged Little Pill which should by rights be impossible to recreate live. “You can tell if someone’s lip syncing - they look great!” Alanis quipped at one point. “There’s no way to hit those notes without looking like some kind of she-monster.”
With captivating renditions of new singles ‘The Reasons I Drink’ and ‘Smiling’ demonstrating that Morissette can still tap in to the pain - and, importantly, hope - at the core of human existence like no other, the prospect of what she’ll be able to deliver in an arena setting during that forthcoming world tour is one to relish.
Right Through You
All I Really Want
Not the Doctor
The Reasons I Drink
Head Over Feet
Hand in My Pocket
You Oughta Know