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On the Beat: Liz Phair concert shows why ‘Exile in Guyville’ is an enduring classic

The review is in: Liz Phair’s still got it, and she proved it at the Majestic in Dallas

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Thirty years ago, Liz Phair released “Exile in Guyville,” a startling indie-rock answer to The Rolling Stones’ 1972 classic “Exile on Main St.”

By L. Kent Wolgamott
Lincoln Journal Star | December 9, 2023


Thirty years ago, Liz Phair released “Exile in Guyville,” a startling indie-rock answer to The Rolling Stones’ 1972 classic “Exile on Main St.”

For the past six weeks, Phair has been revisiting her debut album on a “Guyville” tour that stopped at Omaha’s Holland Center on Tuesday.

“When I was getting back into this album, I thought about how, when you’re young, how hard you fight to make your dreams come true,” Phair told the audience early in the show. “And what a crazy time it is … where it turns out to be some of the best times of your life.”

Phair’s reflection, in many ways, mirrored the experience of hearing “Exile in Guyville” played track by track by Phair and her four-man band.

Hearing the 56-year-old Phair sing the song that the 26-year-old Phair “wrote and recorded in my bedroom, probably drunk after a party on a Tascam cassette recorder” recontextualized the brash, brutally honest lyrics about the male-dominated rock scene in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, aka “Guyville,” her oft-fractured relationships and her sexuality.

That is to say that, the songs now work as much as recollection as emotional diary, putting Phair and the listeners back in the ’90s where her sometimes biting, sarcastic, sometimes-anguished voice rang out, expressing truths for women and scaring the guys.

The grungy power pop was, not surprisingly, also a bit reflective, less angular with more three-guitar interplay — Phair’s guitar remains distinctly slightly off-kilter than in the recorded version. But it retained the indie-style riff rock that matches the Stones’ approach to the rockers and Phair wrote some instantly recalled, catchy hooks for the pop numbers.

The 18 songs wrapped up with an arrangement of “Strange Loop” that took its swirling psychedelia down instrument by instrument until, in a perfect ending, Phair stood alone on the stage, closing “Guyville” with a ringing chord from her acoustic guitar.

That came about 70 minutes after the show began, one more reminder of the ’90s, when albums were long, long, long courtesy of the CD. Or to put it in a different way, if “Exile on Guyville” had been released in the vinyl album era, it would have been a double LP, just like “Exile on Main St.”

Interestingly, only a few audience members got out of their seats to dance during the “Guyville” portion of the show and I heard little singing along with Liz. But the crowd that included more than a few Lincolnites got to its feet at the end of “Strange Loop” and stayed there for the five-song “greatest hits” encore.

In the end, the “Guyville” live presentation did something that most of the “play the old album in its entirety” shows I’ve seen have not done. That is to show that the album release is, like “Exile,” an enduring classic that resonates over the 30 years, staying alive with its lyrical intensity and guitar-rock exploration rather than becoming, as do most records, a piece in the museum of nostalgia.


Featured Image: Liz Phair performed her now 30-year-old debut album “Exile in Guyville” in Omaha on Tuesday. (Photo: Eszter+David)

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