Monday, June 27, 2011

Liz Phair: October 19, 1998

Liz Phair has had one interesting career. A critic's darling after the release of her first album, Exile in Guyville, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was widely hailed as one of a new breed of female artists bringing a sexual frankness and indie-rock sensibility to the confessional singer-songwriter role. But her reign was short-lived as her follow-up album, Whip-Smart, failed to sell as well as the debut, in part because Phair didn't tour in support of the album, instead marrying, having a child, and going on hiatus.

Phair reemerged in 1998 with Whitechocolatespaceegg, in my opinion a vastly underrated release that found her exploring the ups and downs of "settling down" in her usual quirky way, but as a vastly improved singer and guitarist. Unlike with her previous album, Phair embarked on a full-fledged tour to support Whitechocolatespaceegg, and this ticket is from one of those shows.

On a personal note, I remember it was windy on the night of this concert. I handed my friend her ticket as we left the parking lot to walk a block or two to the venue. When we got up the street a bit, she asked if I'd given her the ticket, because she couldn't find it. We hurried back to the parking lot where, amazingly, the ticket was still on the ground where it had fallen, untouched by the breeze or a lucky pair of hands.

We watched the show from the balcony of the very strange, identity-confused Clutch Cargo's. I don't recall who opened, but Phair was really good. Because she'd shot to fame without honing her act in clubs as most artists do, she'd previously been known as an erratic performer. By this time, though, her voice and confidence had improved considerably and she was solid onstage. She ran through songs from all three albums, made jovial chit-chat between songs, and looked fantastic.

What a surprise it was, then, that she dropped from the limelight again soon afterward. Her next album wouldn't be until 2003 and featured a shiny, commercial sound that alienated much of her original audience. It would also give her a Top 40 hit with "Why Can't I."

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