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She’s Phair Game

Fame & Fortune: Rock singer Liz Phair

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Reconnecting with Liz Phair—and Franz Ferdinand take our writer out… bowling

By Tom Kielty and Elisabeth Donnelly
The Boston Phoenix, October 21-27, 2005

It was a long way from Ohio, but an Oberlin College reunion of sorts took place when Liz Phair (Class of ’89) reconnected with Chris Brokaw (’86) backstage at Avalon last Friday. Brokaw — the local indie-rock giant best known for his work in Codeine, Come, and Consonant, not to mention his current solo rock-band incarnation — hadn’t seen his old friend in more than five years. But the wide-eyed look of recognition on Phair’s face spoke volumes. Asked what she remembered about her former schoolmate, she said, “Basically, that I owe him my career.”

Brokaw shrugged modestly; Phair gushed on. “At school his band, Pay the Man, was just the bomb. I’d just stand in the back and love them. They were the band of bands.” After graduation, the two recalled, Brokaw visited Phair in San Francisco, where “she had the biggest dog on earth and kept going on about the latest Tad single.” They remembered how Phair had shared the songs she’d been working on; Brokaw was so impressed that he dared Phair to record them and send him a tape. Soon after, a cassette of 14 originals arrived, followed two weeks later by another 14-track collection.

“A lot were songs that I had started in high school while house-sitting in these empty homes in Winnetka, Illinois,” Phair said of the original drafts of such eventual Exile in Guyville tracks as “Stratford-on-Guy,” “Glory,” and “Flower”. “People were always away, so I could make these tapes in quiet privacy.” Brokaw, however, dismissed the indie-rock legend that he’d been the one to hip Matador’s Gerard Cosloy to Phair’s demos, which have come to be known among devotees as the “Girlysound Tapes”: “I had no idea about anything with Matador until I read it in Tower Pulse or something.”

You could have it so much worse with Franz Ferdinand than to go bowling with them, as a few WFNX contest winners did prior to the dance-rock Scots’ gig at the Orpheum on Saturday. At Kings, the upscale Dalton Street pin garden, the well-dressed Franz lads — or, as one employee called them, the “creepy European guys” — looked the picture of laconic cool in well-fitted pants, standing out in a Saturday-afternoon crowd of linebacker-sized men and a screeching children’s party. Bassist Bob Hardy (long coat) and frontman Alex Kapranos (Members Only) kept their jackets on, maintaining a laissez-faire air while striding up to the lane. After a few gutterballs, both managed to throw some strikes, with Kapranos mumbling about the comparable London pub game skittles. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Give It Away” came on, and the Franzes broke cool to bust out the air guitars. One mountain of nachos and several hundred fan photos later, Hardy had bowled a 106, Kapranos a 79, drummer Paul Thompson a 57, and tour fill-in drummer Andy Knowles, last seen on Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boat tour, a Hardy-matching 106. Guitarist Nick McCarthy rolled a 151, even without bonus points for his Clap Your Hands Say Yeah T-shirt (“Aw, they’re good, yeah?”), though he was accused of “practicing.” Next up, according to new FNX local-music jock Dave Duncan: “mini-golfing with Modest Mouse and flag football with the Polyphonic Spree!”