Juliana Hatfield Keeping It Strong

IMG_0574Juliana Hatfield still looks like a bit of a waif taking the spotlight at Union Stage in Washington, D.C. on a recent summer weekday night. She’s rail-thin in her flowered pantsuit; her slight stature seemingly made smaller by the size (and sound) of her electric guitar. But it’s her still high and girlish voice that gives a youthfulness to her songs, which continue to be plentiful, snarling and fearless.

Tempered a bit by a road cold that saw her coughing in the middle of some songs and cutting her encore short, those who would want to feel protective of this traveling musician should know she’s been doing this on her own terms for decades now and knows exactly what she wants and how to do it.

Figuring that her current band is more or less “The Juliana Hatfield Three, minus two plus one,” she largely rocked out in a compelling nearly-20-song set that had more from her 2017 album “Pussycat” than from her latest one, this year’s “Weird.”

But she also sampled tunes from throughout her career, back to her MTV hit “My Sister” and Three song of her home state, “Feelin’ Massachusetts” which had a whiff of homesickness about it, to a tune from Minor Alps, the band she had with Matthew Caws of Nada Surf (Nothing, however, from the I Don’t Cares, the collaboration with Paul Westerberg that got nearly no notice in 2016).

Hatfield, 51, has had a non-ironic fascination with pop music too, particularly that of Olivia Newton-John, and released a full album of ONJ covers last year. Is it the vocal range that she recognizes in the 80s Aussie pop star, or the tint of loneliness in her songs, despite the aggression of songs given to her?

Hatfield didn’t stress the covers, though, pairing the lesser-known “Suspended in Time” with the video smash “Physical,” which got extra energy from flexing its until-now dormant rock chops.

Her own songwriting only seems to be stronger, with songs from the latest including the memorable “Broken Doll” to the laundry list of descriptors in “Everything’s for Sale” — “self-cleaning ovens, conversion therapy, rabbit ears and feet.”

She seems to be one for all or nothing though with two other songs in the set with titles “Everything is Forgiven” and  “Everybody Loves Me But You.”

Despite a memorable sentiment on “Everybody Loves Me But You,” she also retains some hope in “Somebody is Waiting for Me.”

She had ace backing from a group that included original Three bassist Dean Fisher, she kept a lot of the soloing to herself, evincing a sound of reckless spontaneity, unafraid of muffing a note.

She closed by apologizing for the cough and turning to what she said was her lone Christmas song (wrong – I got many seasons’ use out of her plaintive “Make It Home” she wrote for the soundtrack of TV’s “My So-Called Life”). But there was something lovely about “Christmas Cactus,” about a plant that won’t die even if it won’t bloom anyway.

Her one encore was her upside down public service message, perhaps fitting for one fighting a cold, “Choose Drugs.”

 

The setlist for Juliana Hatfield at Union Stage Was:

  • “Wonder Why”
  • “Everything is Forgotten”
  • “Everybody Loves Me But You”
  • “Parking Lots”
  • “If I Wanted Trouble”
  • “My Sister”
  • “Lost Ship”
  • “Broken Doll”
  • “When You’re a Star”
  • “Rhinoceros”
  • “Everything’s for Sale”
  • “Suspended in Time”
  • “Physical”
  • “Touch You Again”
  • “Somebody is Waiting for Me”
  • “Feelin’ Massachusetts”
  • “Backseat”
  • “Christmas Cactus”
  • “Choose Drugs”
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