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Relive the '90s

Reliving the '90s with Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan is everything I hoped it would be

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Slideshow
Sarah McLachlan 90s
Ah, the '90s. MTV.com
Tori Amos Cornflake Girl
Tori Amos in the '90s. Epic Records
Sarah McLachlan Tori Amos
Sarah McLachlan had boxes where fans could ask questions. Things got meta when we asked if she knew Tori Amos. Photo by Katie Friel
Sarah McLachlan
This is best photo I took of Sarah McLachlan's arms. (She does yoga.) Photo by Katie Friel
Sarah McLachlan 90s
Tori Amos Cornflake Girl
Sarah McLachlan Tori Amos
Sarah McLachlan
austin photo: katie friel headshot

Last week, I broke out my Doc Martens, donned my very best baby doll dress and took a flying leap back into the '90s.

Well, that's not entirely true. I have no idea what happened to the Doc Martens I used to wear when I was a teenager. I assume they made their way to a Goodwill pile years ago, no doubt put there by my father. He hated them and would refer to them as "those stupid clunky shoes." To this day he blames my boots for ruining the floor in my parents' guest bathroom. (In my defense, I haven't lived there in more than a decade and the tiling has since been redone — twice).

If Amos is the one you want filling you in on the secrets of womanhood, McLachlan is the person you want as your best friend.

But last Wednesday morning, I found myself sitting in a small room at Emmis Austin Radio waiting for Tori Amos to begin a short set before her performance at the Long Center in Austin later that evening.

I was sitting with a few girl friends, all of whom count Under the Pink and Little Earthquakes as defining albums of our adolescence. Though we're now in our thirties — with jobs that we blew off in order to catch her 10:30 a.m. set — and have not listened to Amos regularly since high school, as soon as she entered, we felt a collective catch in our throats.

She didn't look entirely like the Tori Amos I used to study on the cover of Boys for Pele, back when I was willing myself to grow curly red hair instead of the pin-straight, dull blonde sticking out of my head at weird angles. But as she sat down at her keyboard and began the first few notes of "Silent All These Years," I felt 13 years old again. Listening to that song on repeat during car rides in the back of my family's Volvo, I never really understood what she was saying (I still don't), but I knew that what Amos was feeling, I had felt, too.

Like all teenagers, I felt things deeply. But that intense, all-consuming passion I had for music is something I wish I could still conjure. I idolized the musicians I loved, and found myself attracted to anyone that had insight into love or angst. Those were my kindred spirits. Those were the songs I listened to in sixth grade after the boy I liked kissed my neighbor and I stopped them by saying aloud, "Are you guys Frenching?"

During those car rides, I would blast songs through the headphones of my Discman, turning it down only to eavesdrop on the conversation coming from my parents in the front seat. That was my time to zone out and listen to the soundtrack of a life that wasn't yet mine. A life where my hair didn't stick out of my head at weird angles, where boys talked to me at school dances and I drove a cool car — maybe even a pickup truck.

 If Amos' songs were the soundtrack of the life I wish I had, McLachlan's songs composed the actual soundtrack to my teenage years. 

I was introduced to Tori Amos the way most kids are introduced to good music, which was, of course, through the cool older sister of my friend, Carla. Her sister was in college, wore stylish clothes and once went on a date with Rivers Cuomo. Through this exceptionally hip family I first heard Weezer's Blue Album, discovered Manic Panic hair dye and black eyeliner, and first heard The Craft soundtrack which sparked a lifelong love of both Morrissey and Connie Francis.

But coming of age as a girl in the mid-to-late 1990s, the music I felt most akin to was that of Amos and her Lilith Fair counterparts. (This would later be replaced by a pop-punk phase in which I would pretend to love bands like Converge, but really just listened to a lot of New Found Glory in secret.) Those women were older, prettier, more articulate and had advice to offer. Listening to their songs was like being clued in by the coolest girl in school.

On Wednesday, Amos played songs from her most recent album, Unrepentant Geraldines. Between songs, she talked of being a woman on the verge of menopause, of the past two decades spent learning to be a mother, of raising a family — of "mid-age" as she called it. As she spoke, it suddenly occurred to me that Amos was speaking from the other side of this stage of life, a stage my friends and I are tentatively entering. That same voice that came booming out of my Discman was now sitting in front of me in a quiet room, speaking not of young womanhood, but of something else. For the first time in months, the questions and worry, all of that stuff that can't be articulated because it's simply felt, was momentarily lifted.

We arrived late (evenings with Sarah McLachlan begin promptly at 8 p.m.), but as we took our seats halfway through her second song, "Building a Mystery," I felt abuzz.

It was a similar feeling on Saturday when my tour of the '90s continued at the Moody Theater for "An Evening with Sarah McLachlan." Admittedly, I abandoned McLachlan's music long ago, but the opportunity to see her perform was too good to pass up. I recruited one of the friends who attended Amos' performance, and together we joined legions of other women (and a few men) to see the Canadian darling perform live.

We arrived late (evenings with Sarah begin promptly at 8 p.m.), but as we took our seats halfway through her second song, "Building A Mystery," I felt abuzz.

If Amos is the one you want filling you in on the secrets of womanhood, McLachlan is the person you want as your best friend. Oh, she is delightful. In addition to being charming (and a self-proclaimed hugger), McLachlan just seems nice. Plus, I spent the better part of the evening wondering what exercise routine she does to achieve her perfect arms. (According to Google, she does a lot of yoga.) I clearly wasn't the only one, since halfway through the show my friend turned to me and whispered, "She has the arms of an angel."

She was promoting her new album, Shine, but McLachlan is one of those performers who shocks you with how much you recognize from her repertoire. Every other song was a bona fide '90s hit. If Amos' songs were the soundtrack of the life I wish I had, McLachlan's songs composed the actual soundtrack to my teenage years.

I'm not sure I'll be adding a Lilith Fair-inspired playlist to my Spotify account anytime soon. Maybe one day, when I too stand on the other side of mid-age, I'll find "Lady in Blue," put on my headphones and listen to Amos' voice guiding me along.

But for now, I think I'll keep Amos and McLachlan where they belong. Back in '90s.

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