After parking the vehicle a few blocks from the venue, we take an inaugural selfie and scamper down Queen Street. The early evening sun dapples our faces as we walk under the big trees while squealing: “She’s here…Alanis is in London!” I don’t own any of her albums but wanted to see the concert after watching the Netflix documentary. It took me back to the 90s. Remember Lilith Fair? The feminist music festival named after Adam’s first wife who was banished from Eden for being disobedient, or maybe it was because she shagged the archangel Samael, a guy with a dark past. Either way, she’s associated with wickedness and freedom, the female flipside we continue to spin.
While crossing the street, we see a group of four women all wearing white Alanis t-shirts. These are our people. We speed pass them and the guy selling rip-off shirts for 20 bucks when we hear the pop-y punk sound of The Beaches rising from the park below. An all-girl group from Toronto, they are sweaty and thin in their monochrome outfits, each one a different colour from the next. “Power Rangers” Kylie says, excitedly, and I nod my head. I was in my early 20s when the Power Rangers came out and by that time parties, music, and guys had replaced cartoons. But still, the cultural reference was solid, and they were a cool second act to get the crowd going.
Bodies big and small, some heavily tattooed, and some cloaked under boho blouses are sprinkled across the park. Women hold other women’s hands and there is much multi-coloured hair. A smile streaks across my face when I see the old guard, the ones wearing tight vintage jean shorts, black t-shirts, and long stoner hair. They cruise around with authority and other stories tucked inside their cigarette packages. Slow rocker nods are exchanged amidst their white puffy trails of pot smoke, and I feel like I’m at a summer concert in Canada. For those about to Rock the Park we salute you.
We’re directed to the VIP area by a lovely man wearing a turban, thank you India. Table 89 is closer to the back than the front, but it’s all good and thankfully it’s all women too. Under the blue sky, the energy is exuberant and chill. Loads of folks are wearing green complimentary sunglasses from one of the show’s sponsors, a local internet provider. The glasses flash every few seconds and remind me of St. Patrick’s Day. As we plow through our piping hot home cut French fries, we rack our brains trying to recall the last big concert we attended.
In between chats and munches, we watch the flock of rockers around us. With shamrock green sunglasses perched on summertime hair, a can of Coors Lite or a peach cooler in one hand, women jauntily hold on to one another while walking in small vertical lines of two or three. Bopping to the music and laughing with ease, I can see them twenty-seven years ago in smaller jeans rocking out to Jagged Little Pill in their bedrooms and clubs. Like we did. All those smoky, liquid nights of music, dancing, and sometimes guys, but always one another. We were grinding out womanhood as we left one another for new cities and professions we would grow into.
The sky fades into a darker blue when Garbage comes on. My first glance at the vocalist and front woman Shirly Manson is electrifying. Her pinky red hair is parted sharply down the middle and she wears a thick white chocker around her neck. It looks uncomfortable but also righteous, and it reminds me to look at her throat, where the sound and power travel from. She’s 56 years old and dope AF, and she speaks to the crowd with generosity and well-timed profanity. There’s a song about stupid girls and one about her imagining to have a dick, “would you blow it?” she sneers while gripping the microphone. She thanks the LGBTQ+ community for always standing with Garbage and dedicates a song to them, saying “Our fight is the same.” Her mouth is a sneer. Her mouth is a siren. She talks about keeping laws off our bodies and tucking those desiccated dicks back into the same cold hands that clutch the Second Amendment. She is a stone-cold inclusive fox.
We check our phones after Garbage wraps up. About 25 minutes to go. What will she open with? Kylie debates getting a drink but then we both shake our heads, nah too much trouble because then you’ll have to pee and that could be a fresh hell of its own. My mouth is dry from the salty fries and because I purposefully didn’t drink too much before we left, knowing that the bathroom situation could be stressful. OMG, I’m old. This is confirmed when I reach for my progressive glasses in my fanny pack. But, then Kylie has them too and she’s at least ten years younger than me. I’m semi-old, I guess.
Bright cylinders of light shock the nighttime canvas. FINALLY! Everyone stands up and starts to howl and clap. There’s a flash of a computer desktop with a few icons neatly lined up along the left side of the screen. It disappears as the stage darkens and then pops back into focus. The band is assembled and plays that taunting intro music; we’re going wild. Then she strides across the stage, blonde hair streaming behind, and I try to make out what she’s wearing. Tuxedo pants with gold sequins along the outer seam, white runners, a black t-shirt with sultry cat decals on it (which Kylie and I learn that we both used to collect in the 90s from vending machines), and a shiny black top that hugs her shoulders.
She plays the harmonica and tosses her head from side to side while lilting and belting out beautiful words. I am transported and transfixed. I trace every move she makes and follow the outline of her shining, smiling face as well as her strong legs, which she juts in a low earthy growl across the stage. Alanis whirls as a dervish, her devotion is in full view. It ripples from her body, which feels much larger than its 163 centimeters, into the crowd and into our collective memories.
I was 23 in 1995 when Jagged Little Pill was released, and for some reason I never went to an Alanis show. But when You Oughta Know comes on, I know every word and so does everybody else. I hear myself sound out of tune but also very fucking in tune with the other people swaying to this leader, this courageous embattled woman from Ottawa who shook the music industry and wouldn’t be silenced. These words are in me, like the plastics that have accumulated in our suffering planet. They have been absorbed into my body and my body knows to hang onto them.
My throat begins to swell. Do I choke the tears back or let them fall? I swallow them so I can keep singing with everyone. In the faded glow of the full stag moon, I move in time with a history of women who came before and the sea of us who have to run up that fucking hill over and over again. Alanis is showing us how to take up space and to roar. We need to do this more than ever because no one else will give us space. We are being denied rightful autonomy over more and more spaces of life, including the skin and ovaries and futures of our own bodies.
When she rocks on the glittery black guitar, her right arm strumming down hard on the six strings, I’m in awe. This is a fucking powerful woman. She is doing this for us, for her kids. For everyone. We will sing.