Liz Phair at the Paradise, Fri. 8.29.08

Posted on September 9, 2008

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Photo by Kelly Davidson

Photo by Kelly Davidson

Things were never comfortable for Liz Phair — that was sort of the point — so it just wouldn’t have been cool if she and her band had managed to pull off the breezy non-nonchalance of her ’93 monolith Exile in Guyville without a hitch. The low notes in every song always seemed a bit out of reach and lost in an overplayed wash of guitars stuck on caricature levels of ’90s guitar effects from the VH1 house band she had brought along with her.

But the way things went, the show got better the more things went slightly out of control. Earlier on, in “6’1” ” and even “Dance of the Seven Veils,” the whole thing seemed almost like a karaoke act, as if Phair had bounced up on stage in her knee-high stilettos and sports-bar short-shorts to take a swing at her own songs. She giggled at lines like “I come when you call” and looked at the band now and then for help on the chord changes.

It pleased the crowd, but I could already begin to feel the inner cynic waking up grumpy and tired of this arm’s-length approach to the music. Guyville’s appeal came not just from her songwriting but from the handmade, personal way she treated her music. Brevity and experimentalism underlies most of the album, which props up a few radio-friendly duds (seriously, “Never Said”? No thanks . . . ) with a big supporting cast of misfits. And so it was the most transparent moments of the show that ruled — the moments when Phair stood alone with her own shaky guitar strumming and conjured her old indie warrior princess with no net. She did “Girls! Girls! Girls!” alone with her eyes closed, as if she were still sitting at home inventing herself in front of a tape recorder. She pulled a girl who’d been gyrating and pointing lyrics out in the air from the front row up on stage to sing along to “Flower,” and she didn’t bat an eye when the girl started pantomiming the “blow-job queen” line. Awkward, yeah, but I’d take it any day over the by-the-numbers act she warmed up with.

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