Tuesday, October 9th was a special night for me. It’s not every day that you get to go see one of your musical heroes perform, especially because I never would have predicted ever seeing Liz Phair in a live setting. Phair hasn’t been particularly prolific this decade and even in her heyday, she was reported as not being too keen on touring. Those must have been different times because Liz Phair looked very happy to be on that stage enjoying the victory lap she’s always truly deserved. The massively underrated Speedy Ortiz also contributed greatly to the mood of the night as they meshed stylistically with Phair. It was a great night for 90’s flavoured alternative rock.
Sadly, Corona Theatre was all kinds of dead. When I walked in, there was only a handful of drunken idiots at the front of the stage looking up at Speedy Ortiz plug in. It’s too bad cause they deserved better. Although, those idiots gave as much love as possible, even if it was somewhat misguided and downright annoying at times. The band had a loose approach that made it appear as if they are all going to play in different tempos at any moment. It was borderline chaotic but also exciting, which makes it more irritating that there wasn’t a huge crowd to witness them. Oh well, Speedy sped along nicely regardless. Everyone in the band seemed so natural, almost as if they were playing along with their friends in a basement. Lead Singer Sadie Dupuis was particularly charming with her deadpan vocal delivery and self-deprecating lyrics. None of this should take away from how rocking this band is though. “Raising the Skate” and “The Graduates” need to be seen live to be believed. These songs are undiscovered gems as is the band.
Despite my duty to objectivity, I can’t help but gush over how amazing Liz Phair was! She came to town to promote the 25th-anniversary reissue of her masterpiece Exile In Guyville and I was so pumped because that album is easily in my top ten ever! It is a record that has been criticized as being dated, crude, and worst of all “men hating.” It’s none of these things! The latter is sexist bullshit spewed from same insecure men who believe that women can’t rock as hard as they do. If you haven’t heard it, it is a soundtrack for ANYONE in their 20’s. Yes, it broke ground for raw and confessional female songwriters (you’re welcome Alanis), but Phair was always a true feminist in that men, women, and even herself weren’t safe from her sharp tongue. Knowing all this background, it was exciting to see Phair take ownership of her legacy, and boy did she!
The first thing that struck me was her voice. She’s still no virtuoso but now she possesses a gritty bellow and beautiful falsetto that accentuate her powerful yet vulnerable lyrics. It must also be said that she is one hell of a rockstar! It’s always awesome when your heroes are cooler than you ever imagined! My favourite moment came when she called out a walking stereotype in the front row, who decided he’d REPEATEDLY put his beers on the stage like he owned it. She just glared at him, said” you’re gonna have to stop it” and he was immediately taken away from security. I laughed and cheered as he protested unaware he was merely an aged version of the same douchebags in “Help Me, Mary.” Phair heard me and smiled in acknowledgment. What a badass!
Despite being a celebration of Exile from Guyville, I was happy that she played songs from Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg. “Uncle Alvarez,” “Polyester Bride,” and “Go West” were met with the same amount of admiration and we all yelled every single lyric along with Phair. Even her biggest hit “Why Can’t I?”, which was unfairly maligned in its day was met with hoots and hollers. It also helped that her band gave the song the raw performance that it should have always had. The encore was of course “Fuck and Run” followed by “Divorce Song.” It may have been an obvious move but even Phair acknowledged that there was no other way to go out. How could anyone not fucking love hearing two of the greatest alt-rock songs ever played back to back!
If there is one criticism I have is that the whole thing was too short! I get that Liz Phair isn’t exactly a household name, but she had so many more classics that could have been played! What we did get was surprisingly cathartic though. In our current cultural climate, it’s apparent that we need an icon like Liz Phair more than ever. I for one am glad she’s back.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Mike Milito