Reviews of music shows I've been to. Maybe you've been there too…

Liz Phair @ 9:30 Club (12/17/10)

She was the queen of indie rock in the 90’s.  Her low-fi, sexually-charged songs may not have changed music, but they made way more of an impact than the Riot Grrls ever did.  Hell, she even took on the Rolling Stones, lick for lick, on her first album.  So how does Liz Phair deal with that past in 2010?

Ambivalence.  On the one hand, her set list at the famous 9:30 Club drew heavily from Exile in Guyville, featuring half of that album’s 18 tracks.  And while the crowd clearly got its biggest kick out of these standards, it was obvious that Phair did not sing them with the same biting sting that comes across on the album itself.  “Flower” was more a winking tribute than the tune that wilted a thousand boners, while “Fuck and Run” was rushed through so quickly it switched Phair from innocent victim into the song’s darting philanderer. Her most passionate singing was reserved for material from her new album, along with a couple tracks from her reviled 2003 eponymous release.  Maybe after all she’s been through, Phair is tired of being the feminist icon, and just wants to be rich and famous.  More surprising was the relatively tame instrumental playing of the band.  Given the relatively stripped-down sound of most of her albums, I was expecting a fuller, rawer live performance.  But the band never ventured too far from the original arrangements, and did little to distinguish itself from an anonymous bar band.

Ambivalence also ran through the crowd.  While not exactly girl power, Phair’s songs are definitely sung from the supremely-empowered female perspective.  I’m sure plenty of girls were humming her songs the first time they were on top during sex.  It came as a shock then to find an audience more than half full of men.  Granted, many were gay, but a shocking number were balding and/or graying, suggesting that they’ve been singing along since she first started in the mid 1990’s.  Where were the women who had come of age because of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”?  Perhaps I had overestimated her effect on the fairer sex.  Even sadder, the energy in the building was constantly bubbling, but never boiled over into outright insanity (or even a communal sing-along).  Just a “happy to be here” vibe for the whole of the show.

At the end of the night, a decent show, but something was just off.  Perhaps it would have worked better as a solo show featuring a single acoustic guitar.  But then again, who ever expected Liz Phair to be perfect?

Set List (unverified):

  1. Supernova
  2. 6’1″
  3. Help Me Mary
  4. Divorce Song
  5. May Queen
  6. Never Said
  7. Nashville
  8. And He Slayed Her
  9. Polyester Bride
  10. Flower
  11. Mesmerizing
  12. Oh, Bangladesh
  13. Extraordinary
  14. Stratford-on-Guy
  15. Fuck and Run

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