Annie Lennox finds joy in `Mass Destruction’

Hey, Theater Dogs. I know the following isn’t theater related, but I just wanted to share my experience with an extraordinary performer…

Sweet dreams are made of Annie Lennox.

Quirky, inspired and inspiring, Lennox spent the ’80s as a techno diva with Eurythmics
>, launched into huge successful solo career in the ’90s and can now do pretty much anything she wants.

Her output has been slim. Since her first solo album, 1992’s “Diva,” Lennox has produced an album of covers (1995’s “Medusa”), a wrenching collection of post-divorce balladry (2003’s “Bare”) and the newly released “Songs of Mass Destruction.”

Four albums in 15 years isn’t exactly prolific. True, Lennox did win an Academy Award for co-writing “Into the West” from the third Lord of the Rings movie, but that was just one song.

It’s a good thing, then, that Lennox’s albums are meaty enough to sustain her fans for years. The new one, which is strong and grim in equal measure, should get us through to at least 2009.

Lennox tours even less frequently than she records, which is why her stop at San Francisco’s Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium Wednesday night was such a treat. Her Annie Lennox Sings tour is only about a month long, and she’s hitting a mere 16 cities.

We got her on the second stop of the tour, and her energy and enthusiasm were extraordinary.

She didn’t waste any time trying to coax fans into the new material. She opened with a full-throttle “No More `I Love You’s’,” which has the great first line: “I used to be lunatic from the gracious days,” and slammed right into the driving “Little Bird.” She kept the momentum going with “Walking on Broken Glass” before slamming on the brakes with the first surprise of the evening, the world weary “Pavement Cracks” from “Bare.”

With lyrics like “Everything I wanna be comes crashing down on me,” the song was but a prelude to the near-apocalyptic depression of “Dark Road,” the first single from the new album, which sings of “the fires of destruction still burning in my dreams.”

With such angst and emotion swirling through the darkness (and the voluminous stage smoke), the crowd should have been weeping and burning black candles. But this is Annie Lennox, the indestructible diva who traffics in depression to the delight of all those who love her.

And indeed, this crowd loved her, adored her, swooned for her every dramatic gesture.

It’s all about that voice — soul deep and so muscular it can pummel you or just as easily carry you away.

At 52, Lennox has lost none of her luster as a performer, from her short-cropped platinum blond hair to her tasteful black, sleeveless mini-dress with black pants. She looked gorgeous. And her voice is as sturdy and powerful as ever.

After nearly smashing the room with the explosive “Smithereens” from the new album, Lennox slowed things down as she accompanied herself on piano through a tender Eurythmics hit, “Here Comes the Rain Again,” followed by “A Thousand Beautiful Things” and a rousing “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

The piano disappeared when she launched into “Cold,” a heartbroken lament sung with such force it became the equivalent of a pop spiritual. The soulful tone burst wide open with “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart),” which Lennox and her five-piece band and two backup singers turned into full-on gospel number.

“Ghosts in My Machine,” the most insistent song on the new album, followed with a taste of blues to start — “I’ve seen too much, I know too much, I hurt too much, I feel too much, I dread too much, I dream too much” — before it erupted into a percussive, hard-driving expression of existential pain.

The final two songs of the main set were surprising choices — fun and irresistible, but surprising. “When Tomorrow Comes” and “Thorn in My Side,” both from the 1986 Eurythmics album “Revenge,” proved to be a whole lot more fun in concert — with everyone in the auditorium up and dancing — than they ever were on record.

For her encore, Lennox climbed up on a musical soapbox with the new album’s “Sing,” an anthem promoting awareness of and involvement in the fight to end HIV and AIDS in Africa, especially for women and children.

But why leave the audience with the hope of making a difference in the world when you can leave them with the somber “Why,” which revels in fear and dread and doubts and utter pain?

Well, because you’re Annie Lennox, the dark diva. And that’s why we love her and why she continues to enliven our dreams, sweet or otherwise.

For information about Annie Lennox’s SING project, visit www.annielennoxsing.com.
And visit her official site here.

Here’s the video for “Dark Road,” the first single from “Songs of Mass Destruction.”