When Alanis Morissette last performed in Australia it was 1999 and she was at the height of her popularity. Her 1995 breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill had become an award-winning, record-smashing international phenomenon, and her 1998 follow-up Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie was selling strongly.
At her first Sydney concert in almost two decades, you could certainly feel the time that had passed between then and now.
Morissette has mellowed and so have her fans. She used to leap around the stage for her grungier hits with her straggly long locks flying wildly across the stage. She now opts for a neater look – perfectly straightened hair and a smart blazer – and performed her entire set from a stool.
But there are things that haven't shifted: Morissette's vocal delivery has retained all of its attitude and electricity and her fans – instructed to remain seated at all times – still find the same joy in her straight-shooting lyrics. And she's still able to connect with her audience in an intimate way: she chatted about the similarities between Australian and Canadian humour and poked fun at her younger self for not understanding the finer points of irony.
Morissette performed these Australian concerts – two shows at Melbourne's Palais Theatre and one at the 8,000-seat ICC Sydney Theatre – with just two guitarists and her trusty harmonica, delivering an acoustic set of every major hit she's had. She doesn't have any new album to flog and clearly just wanted to give her fans the songs they know and love. As she told the crowd, once she's released a song to the world, it belongs to the fans.
She worked her way through most tracks on Jagged Little Pill – including 'Ironic', 'Hand in Pocket', 'You Oughta Know', 'You Learn' – and hits from other albums, such as 'Thank You'. She even pulled out 'Hands Clean', a gorgeously crafted song that feels increasingly relevant as it switches between the perspective of Morissette and an overbearing, powerful older man with whom she had a sexual relationship as a teenager.
Her musical backing may have lacked a little variety – the guitarists mostly just strummed their way through the tracks – but it was an apt set-up for cathartic singalongs.
When 8,000 Alanis fans, most in their late 20s or 30s, join together to shout out 'You Oughta Know' it's as if everybody's disappointing ex-lovers manifest into one being we can all take on together.
Morissette was just 20 when she started writing Jagged Little Pill, and the songs held wisdom well beyond her years. But they're also songs that most songwriters could only write at that age; you need to still be connected to the unguarded emotional intensity of adolescence to make it work. When most of us pass about 25, the thought of admitting the kind of fragility that lies at the core of Jagged Little Pill becomes absolutely mortifying.
It's that fearless exposure that made us love her, and if that love has been pushed a little into ironic territory, it hasn't dulled.
Alanis Morissette played the ICC Sydney Theatre on July 24. Want to see more gigs? Check out our hitlist of the best live music venues in Sydney.