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Noise Live: Liz Phair

Bowery Ballroom
New York City / August 9, 2003

On her 1993 debut album, Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair laid out her waresunder a sign that screamed SEX! NOW THAT I’VE GOT YOUR ATTENTION….Listeners came for the sly, salacious come-ons and stayed for Phair’sinsight into regret, longing, and insecurity. But they didn’t stay long.The two follow-up records yielded diminishing returns, both criticallyand commercially. So with this year’s slick, unsubtle Liz Phair, indierock’s favorite horny librarian turned in her resignation letter, hiked upher skirt, and hitched a ride outta town with Avril Lavigne’s producers.

The 36-year-old singer/songwriter’s performance at New YorkCity’s Bowery Ballroom showcased a curious blend of Phairs new andold. Clad in a filmy minidress, the notoriously stage-spooked singergrinned broadly, dropped bons mots (“I think it’s everybody’s rightto be hot”), and led a surprisingly self-confident charge through herten-year catalog, juxtaposing idiosyncratic Guyville material withless-nuanced declarations of L-U-V from her new album.

After acknowledging the rather vituperative critical response to hernew songs–which included a “career suicide” verdict in The New YorkTimes–Phair threw herself into “Red Light Fever” and the energetic”Extraordinary,” which she described as an updated version of theGuyville highlight “6’1″.” Her touring band, a quartet of shaggy-manedyoung men not unlike the twentysomething boy toys she gleefullyobjectifies on Liz Phair, chipped some gloss off the well-manicuredtunes. But it wasn’t until “Johnny Feelgood”–from 1998’s Whitechocolatespaceegg–that Phair seemed truly free. As her band laiddown a twangy blues-rock groove, she sang about the exhilaration offalling for a bad boy who treats her rough, capturing a central tenetof Phairism: Sometimes the truth is in the contradiction.Before leaving the stage, Phair proclaimed her satisfaction withthe night’s set: ?It was hot, wet, and wonderful.? Then she walkedoff, never asking how it was for us.