January 29, 2011
Liz Phair has been referred to as many things over her near 20 year career. She has been called blowjob queen, indie queen, and the most odious – queen of all sellouts. But throughout it all, one thing has held true; she has remained relevant. Let’s face it, so many of the outfits that she came up with during those sweet days when Sunday nights consisted of MTV’s 120 Minutes and trying to not get caught smoking a bowl during commercial breaks are long gone. Bands like Urge Overkill and Dinosaur Jr. were the subject of many an exchange last week in Atlanta between now reminiscing grownups intermingling with people who were a decade or more their junior and have possibly never been into an independent record store and have had to endure more than their fair share of shallow music.
The subject of many a Generation Xer’s adolescent sexual frustration, Phair has always been more than a pretty face. She possesses a distinct combination of matchless qualities: the ability to maintain female prowess while remaining somewhat gender neutral, a unique vibratoless voice that is soothing yet raw, and honest songwriting that does not contain even a trace of fear. She is one of the few who has the knack to cause a completely heterosexual male to be able to sing along, without qualm, to a track like "Fuck and Run" and the particularly feminine lyric, "I want a boyfriend."
After a short but highly energetic and bass heavy set by Atlanta’s The Forty Fives, Liz made her way onto the stage with a million dollar smile, confident presence, grace and gratitude. After graciously exchanging several glances with the audience, she and her touring trio launched into the first single, "Supernova" from her second album, Whip Smart. The rocking number set the pace for the night and the crowd of admirers immediately turned into a backing choral group, lyric for lyric – a trend that would continue for the duration of the evening. The tune was also a great opener because it immediately let the crowd know that they would receive a catalogue-spanning performance as opposed to a recitation of the album that the tour was supporting, Funstyle. This is not to say that she did not play songs from the album, or that doing so was a bad thing. Funstyle, while different from typical Phair fare, is actually quite good and is obviously something that Liz is quite proud of – to the point that she departed from Capitol Records to make it. But, when an album in a musical career makes into Rolling Stone’s top 500 most important albums of all time as her debut Exile in Guyville did, an audience is going to require those numbers to be satiated. This evening, we would see Liz proudly play material from all of the eras that earned her aforementioned critic-given nicknames, from "Never Said" and "Divorce Song" to "Why Can’t I?" and "Extraordinary."
As the set progressed, the crowd soaked it up like a ShamWow and Phair reciprocated, several times posing questions like "can we bring a crowd on the road like we do an opening band?" She was obviously pleased with the reception and at one point took a request for "Hot White Cum," stating "I really hope my godmother didn’t make it here tonight like she said she would," eventually forcing a sing-along to drown out her obscenity. But it was clear that the embarrassment was more of a façade than anything else. She enjoyed every minute of it, if the smile on her face told an accurate story.
Phair sang and strummed the night away, with very limited exploration, just as a singer/songwriter should. But Liz prefers to refer to herself as a creator who simply does what she does. Whether writing existential stories, portraying fictitious personas through song, or writing television scores, she is an artist who goes in whatever creative direction she feels is necessary to adequately express what she has on her mind. And she does it with a style that is all her own. Judging from the response by virtually all in attendance at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse, she is doing many things right.
Supernova, Help Me Mary, May Queen, Never Said, Nashville, And He Slayed Her, Polyester Bride, Perfect World, Mesmerizing, Oh Bangladesh, Extraordinary, Stratford-On-Guy, Fuck & Run, Cinco De Mayo, Why Can’t I?, Johnny Feelgood