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Liz Phair began the live rendition of her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, by thanking the 9:30 Club’s sold out crowd for its enthusiasm, which continued through the night. The 9:30’s DJ had warmed the crowd with hits from Guyville contemporaries like Urge Overkill’s “Positive Bleeding” and the Afghan Whigs’ “Gentlemen,” and expectations were high.
I’d first seen Phair on the original Guyville tour at Minneapolis’ First Avenue, and while that show was far from bad, the 15 years since the legendary album’s release have served Phair’s stage abilities well. Foremost, she now holds the guitar on her hip in true gunslinger form. At First Avenue, it was clasped under her armpit like she feared it would make a break for the exit, and she did her best to blend in with her touring band. At the 9:30 Club show, however, Phair stood out in front and engaged the crowd, hopefully putting the tired stage fright story line to rest.
After a carbon copy of Guyville’s third cut, “Glory,” Phair answered the question of many an audience member:
“By the way, no one is going to miss Obama tonight. Not on my watch.”
This led to wild applause, and then she ripped into “Dance of the Seven Veils.” Aside from a slight slip at the start of “Soap Star Joe”, the rest of the show was tight and professional. And Phair’s voice is as strong as ever, evidenced by the high notes she hit in “Explain it to Me.”
Guyville’s bold and raw lyrical content is often cited as the reason for the album’s greatness. I embrace that assertion, but it was always the album’s music that drew me in. She rocked on Guyville, and from the basement no less. It was also a refreshing antidote to the grunge movement. The highlights of last night’s show were “6’1″,” “Never Said” (with her touring band hitting the backing vocals just right) and the foot-stomping charge of “Johnny Sunshine.” The grooves on “Mesmerizing” were deeper than the album cut and came with double the swagger.
Two lucky fans were plucked from the audience to accompany Phair on the audacious “Flower”. Much blushing and giggling ensued. My favorite cut from Guyville, “Divorce Song”, however, lacked the recording’s final tight jamming frenzy. Instead, Phair used the album’s closer, “Strange Loop”, for displaying her ax skills, dueling with her touring guitarist.