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Better with age 

A re-energized Annie Lennox holds court

Symphony Hall, March 30 -- It's unsettling enough to see a smoke machine in Symphony Hall. Add to that a barricade of man-sized speakers and a surprisingly complex light show, and it was a different space altogether for Annie Lennox's Atlanta appearance.

Though Lennox has been on an extended hiatus from performing, concentrating instead on raising her daughters, her voice remains powerful. Sure, there were a few moments of strain, but the singer's velvet harmony and indomitable stage presence suggest she never left the concert circuit.

Lennox started the show in cat-burglar chic, with a thick leather overcoat and black skullcap. The coat stayed on until the fifth number, when she revealed a sparkly gold baby-doll dress with dark slacks beneath. Late in the concert, the singer finally flung aside the annoying skullcap to free a shock of closely cropped white-blond hair. At times, framed in diffused pink light and striking a dramatic arm lift, Lennox looked like the melancholy ghost of some 1920s film star.

For a 48-year-old mother of two, Lennox still had some moves, thrashing about the stage like she was 17 again. But this was clearly an adult affair, from the over-35 audience who sat for much of the show to the star's obvious artistic maturity.

The show stuck to the album arrangements on many songs -- at least for the first half. Opening with a trio of Diva tracks -- "Money Can't Buy It," "Legend in My Living Room" and the well-received "Little Bird," Lennox later broke away from the nostalgia fest and premiered five new songs from her forthcoming album, Bare. The good news is that the material mixes seamlessly with the old, even if it treads more morose. "Pavement Cracks" begins with a somber cadence that might have been a B-side for "Why," but crescendos into a pounding testimony reminiscent of early Eurythmics. The moody "Honestly," which Lennox belted under a tangle of bare white lightbulbs, would fit the closing credits of some teen-angst dramedy.

But Lennox was at her best -- and arguably having the most fun -- revamping Eurythmics classics. "You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart," which has seen several mutations in her live shows, became a chipper acoustic jam session for the entire band. She dismissed the band and took to the piano herself for a soulful, spare "Here Comes the Rain Again," casting it as a wistful love letter much removed from its pop roots.

Among the best of the old stuff was "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves." Lennox's three kick-ass rasta-fied backup girls stood in for Aretha Franklin, and honestly put the Queen of Soul to shame, reworking the duet into a staccato gospel hymn.

Lennox finished the show with a hard-driving run of old standards, snarling "Would I Lie to You," "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and "Missionary Man" as if the amphetamines had finally kicked in. For the final encore, Lennox returned to Diva, offering a cathartic, almost tear-inducing "Why." Standing alone in the spotlight, bathed in white and lifting her frail arms to heaven, Lennox seemed to say, "I'm still here, damn it."

Who am I to disagree?

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