Sunday, March 1, 2015

LIVE REVIEW - The Juliana Hatfield Three, The Sinclair (Cambridge, MA) 2/27/15

Photo Credit: Johnny Anguish/Daykamp Music

On February 28, 1994, the Juliana Hatfield Three - singer/guitarist Juliana Hatfield, bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Philips - hit the stage in Memphis for what ended up being their final show for more than two decades. Fast-forward to one day shy of the 21st anniversary of that event, and a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd braved the snow-packed parking maze of Cambridge to witness the band's first full hometown show since they reformed last year.

Hitting the stage for only the third time since getting back together, the band performed their (until very recently) lone album, 1993's Become What You Are, from start to finish. Time has done nothing to diminish the strength of the record's 12 songs, as deep cuts like “Addicted” and the brilliant “For The Birds” earned the same level of audience enthusiasm as MTV hits like “My Sister” and “Spin The Bottle.” It was impossible to ignore the looks of absolute joy in the crowd as each of the album's songs unfolded. Become What You Are is dear to a lot of people's hearts, and it's an unexpected gift to be able to experience it live in 2015.

Even before the band hit the first notes of their classic album opener, “Supermodel,” there was already a lot of history represented on stage and throughout the Sinclair. In addition to living within walking distance from the venue, Hatfield birthed her career in this area in the late '80s while she was a member of the unforgettable Blake Babies. Philips first earned attention behind the kit for Massachusetts heavyweights Moving Targets and Bullet LaVolta (and more recently with The Lemonheads), while Fisher has worked with wife and fellow New England music mainstay Tanya Donelly. A look around the crowd revealed some Taang! Records band-emblazoned clothing here and there, while a good percentage of audience members had the hairlines and hair color indicative of years-long investment in Hatfield's career. This show wasn't just a gig by a popular '90s band; it was a celebration of a milestone album from a regional scene and tradition perpetually brimming with great music.

Perhaps it was the comfort of playing to a crowd of friends, family and devoted fans that led to such an enjoyably loose performance. Philips wore an ear-to-ear grin from start to finish, while Hatfield joked that the 21-year layoff in the band's activities has resulted in her mind forgetting things. (The quip was driven home when the flustered singer stopped “Feelin' Massachusetts” during the first verse to ask Philips if she had messed up the words. She hadn't.) Sure, the equipment was temperamental at times and there were guitar flubs aplenty, but these imperfections felt absolutely right in this setting. It takes a truly wonderful band to turn a big room like The Sinclair into an intimate living room.

Although the full live presentation of Become What You Are was a treat for any Hatfield fan, its inclusion in the set came at the expense of showcasing the band's recently released reunion album, Whatever, My Love. As discussed elsewhere on this site, Whatever, My Love is a beautiful and perfect as an album can be, which makes the performance of only three of its songs a bit of a letdown. As enjoyable as it was to see and hear the band bring out the electric Hey Babe version of “Nirvana” (a song that first appeared in acoustic form on The Blake Babies '91 EP, Rosy Jack World) and a surprise cover of Minor Threat's “I Don't Wanna Hear It” (!!!!), it would have been equally exciting to hear Whatever tracks like “If I Could,” “Invisible” and “Parking Lots” live. Unlike the vast majority of '90s bands still slugging it out on the road, the Juliana Hatfield Three do not have to merely rely on nostalgia to win over an audience. By reducing the new album to an afterthought, the band undersold their great asset.

This minor criticism aside, the Juliana Hatfield Three delivered exactly what you'd expect – endearingly imperfect Pop songs that have stood the test of time. It's so great to have them back.

(Hey, guys - Please don't make us wait so many years to see you again, okay?)

Order Whatever, My Love


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