Liz Phair (photo: Patric Carver)
I think there’s never going to be a moment in history that more perfectly casually intersects than the mid-’90s “Girl Power” movement with the current #metoo wave of feminism than Liz Phair dedicating a song on stage to fellow singer-songwriter Carnie Wilson. Right before biting into “Uncle Alvarez” from Whitechocolatespaceegg, Phair announced that Wilson had tweeted about listening to the song that day. If I were Wilson, the dedication would have been bittersweet. As nice as it is to be recognized from the stage like that, Wilson wasn’t in attendance so she couldn’t hear that this version of “Uncle” was far superior to the 20-year-old album track.
That may have been my major takeaway from her Amps on the Lawn Tour performance: Liz is meant to be seen live.
I’ve never been much of a Liz Phair fan. I wasn’t put off by her, but I didn’t see the fascination with her that some of my contemporaries had. If I wanted edgy woman-made music, I was far more likely to turn to Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex or Cynder Block of Tilt.
Looking back, it may be because I saw so much promotional material for Phair’s watershed Exile in Guyville before I heard it. I remember reading about her in Rolling Stone and having a visceral reaction to the polished picture of Phair. This was our feminist superhero? She looked like she had fallen out of one of the lip-gloss advertisements in Seventeen. She looked pretty, in that uncomfortable and forced way that is so prevalently heralded in media.
Yeah, don’t worry — I’m cringing now, too, at my narrow focus back then on what a feminist can or should look like. However, one thing that I think my 13-year-old self did get right was this understanding that Phair is best unfettered. “6’1”” is a powerhouse of a song with that beautiful cascading opening and then those elongated vocals. However, the record version is positively feeble compared to Phair’s performance of it at the Fillmore.
Other highlights from the evening included “Supernova,” “Help Me Mary,” and “Stratford-on-Guy,” all which sounded like emboldened versions of their recorded selves.
Phair’s thumbprint was all over the charming opening band, Speedy Ortiz. Named for a comic book character, Speedy was a little cartoonish themselves with some silly between-song banter — the product of feedback they’d received from previous shows that they didn’t talk enough on stage. I’d advise Speedy to stick to their instincts; the interjections got a little distracting mid-set.
Their music had this joyous overtone to it that I’d compare to a less frantic Okmoniks. Bold, loud, guitar-heavy numbers like “Buck Me Off” and “The Graduates” caught my ear — really powerful and driving. The sort of song that sticks with you. I’d go see Speedy again.
As a reminder that women everywhere are still existing in a Phairian Guyville, their lead singer mentioned several times the band’s efforts to raise money for a book to prevent harassment at shows. It was kind of a gut check every time she did — a reminder that we haven’t really come that far.
If you visit Phair’s website, you’re greeted by a pink-and-black graphic that says, “Make America Girly Again.” Instead of interpreting this as a statement that America was ever for women, I view this as a rallying cry for everyone to stop being complicit and start demanding justice &mdash start creating something better.