Alanis Morissette, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, review: definitive Nineties songs that sound more brilliant than ever

Alanis Morissette at the Shepherd's Bush Empire
Alanis Morissette at the Shepherd's Bush Empire Credit: Rob Ball

If you wanted to consume the mid-Nineties pop mainstream in a single dose, then Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill would be a good choice.

The Canadian singer-songwriter 1995 international breakthrough album is steeped in the aura of that era: its spiky pop-rock melodies (which earned Morissette her first five Grammy awards, aged 21) and repeatedly replayed videos; its boho coffee shop aroma; its solid form as an LP predating digital pick’n’mix playlists. At the same time, Morissette’s classic catchy confessionals transcend the past: Jagged Little Pill has now inspired a Broadway musical, a turn of events that Morissette described as “lovely and trippy” at her London gig marking the album’s 25th anniversary.

Morissette’s expansive 2020 tour largely features global arenas (she’ll return to big UK venues in September, via Asia, Australia and America), but on Wednesday night the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in west London was treated to a rare up-close-and-personal acoustic concert. The sparse acoustic staging itself felt Nineties in tone, reminiscent of the prolific MTV Unplugged series. Morissette released her own successful MTV Unplugged live album in 1999 (and a Jagged Little Pill Acoustic album in 2005), so the evening’s set-up and the set-list were familiar ground – but her richly emotive catalogue and bold, bright delivery ensured there were plenty of sparks and skin-prickling hooks. The accompaniment from virtuoso guitarists Julian Croyell and Jason Arme (with a few harmonica blasts from Morissette herself) created immaculate quiet/loud contrasts, and ruggedly funky riffs.

She emerged to the packed house in checked trouser-suit and stiletto boots, beaming and waving with the familiarity of a beloved friend rather than a superstar performer (whose acting roles have included playing God in Kevin Smith’s 1999 movie Dogma). She kicked off with Your House: originally a “hidden track” tucked away at the end of JLP’s CD release; it was proof that Morissette’s romantic revelations still pack a mighty punch and that she can still hit the high notes in that distinctive warble, undeniably better than most of us singing along.

For many of the concert-goers there, JLP soundtracked youthful angst. Those of us feeling shaken by the realisation that that was a quarter of a century ago could console ourselves with a comfy seat – and more importantly, the assurance that some things age brilliantly well.

Alanis Morissette returns to the UK in September Credit: KGC-138

It was a pleasure to luxuriate in this material, with Morissette reviving JLP’s anthems such as You Learn, and reflecting on album tracks like Not The Doctor (written when she was a headstrong teen, now delivered as a happily married fortysomething). What’s more, while the Nineties produced many strong female voices, its laddish pop culture was also reactionary – that Morissette continued to soar on her own terms is worth celebrating.

There was a shot of fresh material (deliciously brittle new single Reasons I Drink, taken from her upcoming ninth studio album) alongside riotous JLP favourites Ironic and the splendidly furious You Oughta Know. The 1998 hit Thank You formed a heart-swelling end-note. Morissette has always stood out for baring her soul; pared back and in the raw, her songs sounded stronger than ever.