Liz Phair at the Fine Line, 1/20/11

Liz Phair
January 20, 2011
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis

The controversy surrounding Liz Phair's supposed "selling out" some years back still rests in the forefront of many peoples' minds. She was a reluctant sex symbol (the very best kind for a shaggy-haired indie boy to pine after) who sang songs about sex for two--ok, about one and a half--albums, then she embraced her sexuality and, for many, became less sexy. But it's a difficult line to toe, pretending you don't want to be seen as sexy while singing songs about blow jobs and taking charge in bed for your own pleasure.

For what it's worth, I applaud Phair for saying "the hell with it" and running with her gut, even if the quality dropped off afterward. She has been true to herself and in the end, hopefully that's what will count.

But none of this mattered, really, on Thursday night at the Fine Line. And maybe it doesn't matter at all. "It's friggin' awesome to see people sing my words back to me!" she mused after "Divorce Song," the set off and running by then. The set shaped up to be essentially a greatest hits of sorts leaning heavily on Exile In Guyville and Whip-Smart and while that may indicate that she, too, knows her recent output isn't as great as it once was, the older songs still resonate, they are still powerful. Songs like "Fuck and Run" and "Soap Star Joe" are maybe a little vulgar but have a timeless quality to them, while at the same time laying bare her emotions and dissecting failed or toxic relationships she once had--relationships similar to ones you've had, too. "Stratford-On-Guy" might be at once the best and most ignored song of the '90s; with it's lazy riffs and loud-quiet-loud structure it's nearly eclipses the Pixies in embodying what the '90s were in a grand sense.

Liz Phair at the Fine Line, 1/20/11
Liz Phair at the Fine Line, 1/20/11

Phair capped the hour-long set with a three-song encore that included the so-so "If I Ever Pay You Back" from her new Funstyle album. Phair and company waved goodbye and stepped offstage; but as half the crowd suited up with hats and coats to venture back out into the crippling cold, the other half greedily cheered and hooted--they wanted one more song and they got it. Phair and the band reappeared for a rendition of "Flower" with a little help from an audience member pulled from the audience to sing the backing vocals. It was a fun, if slightly sloppy way to end the night.

Liz Phair will never produce another Exile In Guyville and we'll have to live with that. The new songs aren't terrible, but admittedly don't approach "Mesmerizing" or even "May Queen" in their power. But Phair long ago stated that she had no interest in being an indie sex symbol and wanted to be a pop star. While that may be true, she's in limbo for now with the new material and it'll be interesting to see if the next album is a push forward or a step back to her roots.

Critic's Bias: As a teenager I had a deep and hopeless crush on Liz Phair. Thursday I realized that crush never really went away.
The Crowd: Late-20s to mid-30s guys in wool coats and black-framed glasses mixed with well-dressed women in their late-30s to early-40s.
Overheard In The Crowd: Variations of "God damn, she's still so hot!" no less than 10 times.
Random Notebook Dump: She's sort of like Eminem in that she'll never make another version of what made her famous.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Tony Nelson, including shots of local openers ReadyGoes.

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