October 6, 2018
Review and pics by David Chiu
(promo photo by Elizabeth Weinberg)
On a day that saw the confirmation of controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after two turbulent weeks that further stoked the ever-widening political divide in the nation, rocker Liz Phair provided much needed catharsis during her performance Saturday night in New York City. It may seem like a stretch to make that connection at first, but Phair’s music has always conveyed female empowerment. And at a time when the war against women is more pronounced than ever before complemented by the #MeToo movement, Phair’s feminist themes going back to her classic 1993 album Exile in Guyville is both timely and relevant now.
The singer and her band brought the Amps on the Lawn tour to a sold-out and packed audience inside Brooklyn Steel. Kicking the proceedings off with an electrifying version of “Supernova,” Phair performed a fairly balanced representation of her body of work, especially from Guyville, Whip-Smart, Whitechocolatepspaceegg, the self-titled record, and Somebody’s Miracle. Naturally, the songs from Guyville – which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year – elicited the most cheers and recognition from the crowd when Phair performed them: among them were 6’1”, “Never Said,” “Uncle Alvarez,” “Mesmerizing,” and of course “Fuck and Run” and “Divorce Song” during the encore. She also unearthed a gem in “Go West” (from Whip-Smart) in a somewhat semi-acoustic form, and even the more accessible pop-friendly tracks in “Why Can’t I” and “Extraordinary” rocked harder onstage compared to the original studio versions on 2003’s Liz Phair; “Polyester Bride,” taken from the underrated Whitechocolatespaceegg also was a key moment at the show.
Two notable highlights happened during the set: Phair unveiled a promising new song called “The Game,” which sounds folkish and reflective in nature (she described it as “adult-y”); the other was a loose and fun duet with Speedy Ortiz singer Sadie Dupuis whose band opened the show; Speedy Ortiz had recently covered Phair’s “Blood Keeper.” Given the circumstances with the Kavanaugh news earlier that day, the duet was a much-needed form of female bonding and empowerment.
Throughout the performance, Phair’s backing band was superb, bringing an energy to the songs. As for the singer herself, she had come a long way from those times of stage fright early in her career. There were never moments when it felt like Phair was phoning it in— the enthusiasm in her singing, the smile on her face, and her good humor were infectious. It all lent a positive and genuine vibe.
With the release of Exile in Guyville 25 years ago, Phair turned rock’s patriarchal stance and chauvinism upside down. Unfortunately not much has changed since Guyville as far as women’s rights and respect go. But at least for one night, Phair’s performance was a reminder of how much her music remains vital and appropriate in this current climate. As evident with today’s emerging female indie rockers, Phair’s songs remain influential and inspiring in putting women’s issues to the forefront of the conversation. Certainly right now, we can all use some galvanizing form of inspiration to act.