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The Divine Ms. Jane
Jane Siberry, Vancouver, December 14, 1999, 8 pm, The Vogue Theatre

by Kathy Sinclair

no one ever said a Jane Siberry show would be predictable.

Siberry, a musician/singer/songwriter originally from Toronto, is usually classified in the "art pop" category. Rolling Stone calls her a "Mensa siren," including her in the group with Laurie Anderson, Joni Mitchell, and Tori Amos.

Siberry first became known in the early 1980s with the song "Mimi On the Beach." She's undergone several transformations since then – from down-to-earth chick (Bound By the Beauty) to dark, sexy songstress (When I Was a Boy) to skatting jazz improviser (Maria). If there's been one thing Siberry fans could count on, it's that they never knew what was coming next.

In 1996, Siberry left her record company and started her own label, Sheeba. Enter next phase: musician becomes business person.

Which may be part of the reason Siberry spent over five minutes at her Vancouver show – the last stop on her solo "Pilgrim" tour – hawking bunnies.

Bunnies? Yes. Stuffed rabbits. "They're plain muslin," she explained, holding one up, "and they were very popular in San Francisco… regular price is $20, but you can order them on the website for $15."

"Good business move," someone shouted from the audience.

Indeed, it was hard to believe this pitch was coming from the woman who once wrote the lines "Extra executives, with a general desire (I want I want)… He took a course in sales, he's never been the same." One had to wonder, were Siberry's album sales doing so poorly that she had to branch out into the stuffed animal business?

But the concert wasn't all a sales pitch. Siberry alternated early songs such as "You Don't Need" with traditionals like "Old Man River" and new songs from her New York Trilogy series, a collection of three live shows recorded at The Bottom Line. A few times Siberry explained to the audience that she hadn't rehearsed before the tour, she didn't have a setlist, and that she decided which songs to do on the spur of the moment. At times, this was painfully obvious, as she walked aimlessly from electric guitar to piano to keyboard. No over-choreographed laser light shows here – and no back-up band: this was about as bare-bones-sincere as you get. Just one of the reasons Siberry has a longstanding, devoted following: she's not afraid to make herself vulnerable.

Siberry has never been accused of being a sell-out – she's had scant radio play, and despite a solid 20-year career, she's hardly a household name. But when she introduced a song called "Pretty Ponies," which, she explained, she'd recorded for the movie Barney's Great Adventure, it was clear that this on-the-fringe singer was no longer quite so edgy. The purple dinosaur – and Jane? I'm still not sure I can get my head around it.

A Jane Siberry concert is always a treat, and despite my misgivings with her new incarnation, this show was no exception. The woman is so genuine, gentle, and funny – like a favourite aunt or elementary school teacher – that it's difficult not be charmed by her, no matter what you think of her music.

Perhaps it's unfair to demand that musicians maintain early convictions throughout their entire careers. They're human beings, after all, and human beings change.

But I certainly won't be lining up for a stuffed bunny. Even if its rear end has been signed by Jane Siberry.

Kathy Sinclair is canadian content's B.C. correspondent.
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