Liz Phair, who in nine months has gone from Wicker Park unknown to L.A. Weekly cover girl, has a big job ahead of her: translating the promise, and occasional brilliance, of her debut album, “Exile in Guyville,” into a live act just as thrilling.
The job looked about half finished Saturday at a sold-out Metro.
When last seen, at Lounge Ax in January, Phair had played only about a half-dozen gigs and her awkwardness was exacerbated by a gimpy amplifier. Still, she got by on pluck and, for at least one observer, her songs-however shakily delivered-were inescapable.
Now with a solid band-drummer Brad Wood, guitarist Casey Rice, bassist Leroy Bach-Phair no longer seems quite so tentative, but one sensed the Metro show was still more of an ordeal than a celebration for her.
Phair was only beginning to loosen up when her headlining set was wrapping up, after a mere 45 minutes.
The best moment was the last, as she delivered the savage sarcasm of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”-“I get away almost every day with what the girls call murder”-accompanied only by her blasting, fuzzed-out guitar and the somewhat ironic voices of her three accomplices.
The hard-rocking material, especially “6’1″ ” and “Mesmerizing,” shambled into Stones territory, with Rice playing Mick Taylor lines around Phair’s Keith Richards chords. “Never Said” was goosed by Wood’s nasty, minimalist drumming and “Glory” was drenched in dreamlike colors.
But Phair never was transformed into the “pit bull in a basement” that she describes in “Help Me Mary.”
Though the irony and distance on “Exile in Guyville” are well-served by a flat, dry delivery, Phair seemed almost subdued. Her voice rarely matched the lyrics’ bite and sometimes struggled to be heard.
So even as Phair’s terrific songs belied her inexperience, her stage show remained hobbled by it.
Openers Red Red Meat dispensed with their full-throttle attack for a more relaxed, bluesier groove with striking results, and the Portland duo the Spinanes offered off-kilter melodies that precariously balanced a thin female voice, primitive guitar and overpowering drumming.
By Greg Kot, Tribune Rock Critic
Chicago Tribune, September 20, 1993