Liz Phair returns to Exile at First Avenue

Liz Phair First Avenue, October 4 Review by Pat O'Brien


Over the past couple of years there has been a rash of musical artists appearing at music festivals and playing a classic album from their catalog from front to back. Sebadoh and Public Enemy did it at the Pitchfork Festival this past summer with Bubble and Scrape and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, respectively. Sonic Youth took Daydream Nation out on tour last year. And Liz Phair is the latest to do so with her 1993 debut, Exile In Guyville, an album that could be considered less “classic” by some -- and considering her track record since, it could have been a dicey move.

After witnessing Phair’s powerful, foul-mouthed (in song and otherwise) hour-plus set at First Avenue, however, it is clear that Exile is indeed a classic. The songs have not lost their impact. The lyrics are just as titillating, angry and confrontational as they were 15 years ago and it was obvious that she was the template for many future “chick rockers.” The key difference, though, is that on Exile In Guyville, Phair gave as good as she got -- the flood of artists that followed in her wake never seemed to be as sure of themselves in that respect, they seemed only to get trampled by their men without inflicting any retribution.

The diminutive 5’2” (not 6’1” as she claims in the album’s opening track) Phair was a fireball onstage (which was a relief, since she had battled crippling stage fright for years) and it was plainly obvious that she still loves these songs as much as many of her fans do. I looked around the room several times and almost everyone in the audience -- which included far more males than I had anticipated -- was singing along to every word. She pulled two fans out of the audience to help her sing “Flower” and the fans didn’t want to leave the stage afterward, both insisting on hugging her before departing.

I had forgotten what an emotional roller coaster Exile is and seeing it live heightened those emotions tenfold. Its 18 songs never get boring; the album never drags, dips or sags even a little bit, it was (and, indeed, still is) a pitch-perfect masterwork. Considering her output since, maybe she just got lucky and caught lightning in a bottle the one time, but what a glorious, beautiful bottle it is an it was a privilege to view it up close after all these years.

--By Pat O'Brien

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