By Genevieve Wood
The Austin Chronicle | December 2, 2023
As if Liz Phair hasn’t been clear enough throughout her three-decade career, she’s not keen on conforming to expectations.
Her Friday night Moody Theater set proved no different. Landing in Austin on the home stretch of the era-defining Exile in Guyville’s 30th anniversary celebration tour, Phair’s performance was no breeze down memory lane, rather a defiant reworking of the album that catapulted the young songwriter from Chicago’s DIY subculture to alt-rock stardom. Swaggering through Guyville’s entirety with the help of a full backing band (bolstered by three guitarists, Phair included), her high-energy, hour-and-a-half set offered a punk rock masterclass to put her nonconformist legacy on full display.
An opening set by up-and-comer Blondshell, the songwriting project of mid-twenties songwriter Sabrina Teitelbaum, showcased Phair’s impact before the headliner ever set foot on stage. Clearly a devout student of her tourmate’s emotionally raw lyricism, Blondshell impressed her audience (primarily of Phair’s age peers) with guitar-forward samplings on the trials of early adulthood and disappointing men, including the bitterly sexy “Kiss City:” “I think my kink is when you tell me that you think I’m pretty.”
Emphasizing their cohesion, Teitelbaum and Phair recently co-curated Spotify’s well-listened “Thrifted” playlist, the cover of which features the musicians posing in all black like an über-cool mother and daughter.
Primed by their heart-opening supporting act, the all-seated crowd immediately jumped to their feet upon the punchy opening chords of “6’1”,” setting a sing-along precedent that refused to die for Phair’s full performance. Some head-bangers performed back at Phair with great bravado, while others murmured the track’s cutthroat verse under their breath. Even the most timid couldn’t resist bellowing Guyville’s triumphant opening chorus with their full chest: “And I kept standing 6-feet-1/ Instead of 5-feet-2/ And I loved my life/ And I hated you.”
The equally bouncy “Help Me Mary” kept feet tapping, only to be stopped in their tracks by moodier whole-step-down standout “Glory.” Compared to the track’s all-acoustic, stripped-down studio version, additional electric riffs and tasteful swaths of ambient synthesizer added sonic delight. Behind the guitar-wielding performer swirled a backdrop of impressionistic faces and vaguely discernable cityscapes, complementing Phair’s expertise at matching brutal realism with abstract metaphor in her lyrics.
Carrying herself with an ultracool charisma, Phair flashed a winning smile between each tricky chord change of eye-rolling anthem “Soap Star Joe” and the road-trip-ready “Never Said.” Between tracks, the singer proved as wickedly funny as her in-song jabs at controlling men, introducing biting hookup anthem “Fuck and Run” as “Make Love and Stick Around.” Swapping the 1993 version’s tinny anxiety for stadium-ready drum oomph and fuzzy guitars, even Phair’s most cynical recordings felt more like celebratory than ceremonial.
As screaming riffs sent closing track “Strange Loop” into psychedelic territory, her audience clearly wasn’t prepared to bid adieu to the indie rock pioneer. Shouts of adoration drew Phair back onstage for a five-song encore of post-Guyville hits, including rollicking Whip-Smart standout “Supernova” and deceptively sweet whitechocolatespaceegg jam “Polyester Bride.”
“I want to thank every single one of you for showing up tonight and for loving this album,” she effused. “It’s been 30 fucking years since I came home from parties drunk and sat down in my room with a 4-track TASCAM cassette recorder.”
The singer sent off with “Why Can’t I?” from her 2003 self-titled album – which notoriously received a zero-star rating from Pitchfork for its radio-friendly leaning, an argument its reviewer later apologized for. Along with her Austin crowd, Phair showed no concern for nostalgic lingering or cultural reckoning. She continued to push Guyville’s timeless recordings in new directions, three decades on.
Featured Image: Liz Phair at ACL Live at the Moody Theater on Dec. 1 (Photo: Jana Birchum)