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Oldies But Goldies: Liz Phair Exile On Bowery Ballroom 2015


(I was talking to my friend Tim Steil  about Liz Phair the other day, the effect she had on the rock community in the 1990s. He knew her when she was still slipping cassettes in rock critics pockets. Tim told me:

“Rich girl living in a shitty Wicker Park apartment with Nash from Urge Overkill, playing poor with a credit card her parents paid off every month.

But her songs were good, great actually, and I have to say Exile in Guyville is still one of my favorite records of all time. She just fucking nailed it with that. I knew all the people on it, I knew the guy who owned the studio.

I guess I’m a feminist in as much as I have never hit a woman once, even when she kind of deserved it, but Liz just knocked it out of the park on that album. A strong statement that just stuck a finger into the eye of every flannel clad prick in Chicago who decided he was going to start a grunge band.

I was sort of in the scene at the point, and I have to tell you, there was a huge blowback when she hit. Every chump with a Les Paul’s dick shrunk four inches saying holy shit who is this woman?

Got me thinking of this concert from Monday, December 13th, 2010 at the Bowery Ballroom, I’d seen her get blown of stage at the Town Hall April 1995. She got better.  – IL)

So now we know.

We kinda guessed it early in Liz Phair’s set, when “Extraordinary” off her 2003 failed pop move Liz Phair, was a real treat. But “H.W.C.”, off the same album, and the second to last song of the night, stole the show.

What we learnt last night was Phair’s big pop move was fucked up the ass aurally. That take away the gook and it wasn’t bad at all. “Hot White Come” is an awesome song waiting to be found again. Just not the version on the album.

Earlier, Liz’s decades long pal, Boston’s Chris Brokaw opened the set. Brokaw is famous for his early 90s bands Codeine and Come. Tonight he played a hard, sharp set and worked through inattention even when he pulled off a Liz Phair rarity “Don’t Be So in Love Yourself”to great effect.

But really, as far as thankless tasks, playing a 45 minute solo set to an audience who doesn’t know your work is way way up on the list. Despite rhyming Bacchio with macho, Chris was very credible and all his singer-songwriter strokes might repay a close hearing. He is a way better than average guitarist, an expert at melodic noise. It all lead to the acrostic “Panther Hunting”,(as a complete aside, and simply because this is a music blog and not a music mag, may I point you to Nabakov’s “The Vane Sister” -the greatest acrostic ever written and done to impart something the narrator himself is unaware. Nabakov is, debatably but not by me, the greatest stylist of all time and he is at the peak of his powers in 1951. PS: the New Yorker turned it down, the pusses) a very clever rocker. Anyway, a pretty good set all said and at the end of the night Chris was hawking his CDs in the lobby. He kinda deserves better.

As for Liz, she skipped “Flowers” but otherwise she made one entirely undeniable point: Her catalogue isn’t just Exile In Guysville, it is a coupla decades of accumulated excellence. A hard charging 2010 “And He Slayed Her”, no less than a lovely (yeah, she played it) “Perfect World”.

Backed by a good rock band, Phair’s skirt was hideous, and she couldn’t be a worse mover if she took lessons on how not to move, but her voice is better than it was on the Exile tour and when she uses that sing songy tuneless drone it is evident she is using it because the song she wrote requires it. Not because she has no choice.

And her rapport with the audience was fun(style!). She made jokes, flirted, blushed, went off color riffing on what’s in her box (“A party of one!”). The intimacy of the setting worked well for her.

And we got what we wanted, “6’1”, “Fuck And Run”, “Divorce Song”… great songs well played, well presented, not as nostalgia parcels but as part of an organic career in motion.

So no “Flower”. And nothing much in her box. But lotsa hot white come. Liz is out of exile for good.

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