Monday, June 24, 2019

Homecoming Queen: Back in Chicago's North Burbs, Liz Phair Puts on an Excellent Show -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Liz Phair
w/ opening act Juliana Hatfield 
Out of SPACE
at Temperance Beer Co., Evanston, IL
June 22, 2019

I go way back with Liz Phair. 

Not quite to high school, as she attended New Trier while I attended Niles North, four miles and a socioeconomic class (or 2) south.

And I wasn't aware of any of her early recordings prior to the 1993 release of Exile in Guyville, which was almost instantly acclaimed as a masterpiece.

But the praise prompted me to buy that album soon after it came out. Finding the hype well-warranted, I’ve been a big fan ever since. 

On New Year’s Eve 1993 at Metro, I first saw Phair live, at a time when her stagefright was regularly cited in the press. 

But by 1998, when I caught her at the Vic, she’d become a much more comfortable performer, and
the next year I ventured out to DeKalb to see her play at NIU, my alma mater. A couple of close friends came up from Champaign to meet me there; hard to believe that was 20 years ago. 

In 2003, itself somewhat surprisingly now well in the past, I ever so briefly met Liz at an in-store signing at Tower Records on Clark Street in Chicago. This was at a time when her latest, eponymous album was being decried in many corners for being more pop sheen than indie queen.

Yet despite her supposed ire over the press bashing and a knack for acerbic lyrics, I found her to be quite sweet in person. 

We’re all a bit older now, with the 52-year-old Phair not having released a studio album since 2010. But from her opening quip of “It’s great to be home,” the concert she and her band delivered in the parking lot of an Evanston brewery on Saturday was sheer delight. 

The evening—part of the SPACE venue’s Out of SPACE series—got off to a swell start even prior to Phair taking the stage. 

Though I’m not nearly as indoctrinated to the music of Juliana Hatfield, she too is a legendary “alt-rock chick”—no degradation is meant to accompany the crude semantics—and with a band, she delivered a fine opening set. 

Reference Hatfield’s setlist here, but “Everybody Loves Me But You” opened the show, while her biggest hit—to my awareness—“My Sister” nicely concluded her time onstage. 

And having put out an album covering Olivia Newton-John songs last year, she included “Suspended in Time,” which isn’t an ONJ song I recognized. 

With four male bandmates—one more than Hatfield—Phair began her 85-minute set with “Supernova” off her second album, Whip-Smart. 

The show featured a nice range of material from across her career—setlist here—though it was great to hear nine songs from the still-remarkable Exile in Guyville, including “Never Said,” “6’1” and “Mesmerizing.” 

Incidentally, that album was sequenced as a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, but Liz made no mention of the Stones being in town. 

I couldn’t make out everything she said in the open air, but in introducing a new song—“God Loves Baseball,” which sounded good—she spoke of Wrigley Field and perhaps living or recording nearby. 

She also noted that her parents had moved away from the area, and jokingly asked if anyone had a room in which she could crash for the night. 

Phair and Hatfield both expressed excitement over their pairing in Evanston—on the grounds of the Temperance Beer Co., where I had a great Bratwurst Corn Dog from the Mad Moxie food tent—so it was great when Liz brought Juliana onstage. 

They played another Olivia Newton-John song unfamiliar to me, “Please Mr. Please” and then “Friend of Mine,” a Phair song Hatfield had previously covered. 

That song, like "Extraordinary" and "Why Can't I?", comes from the 2003 album, and I enjoyed hearing all three, so the grief Liz once took over being overtly melodic seems rather silly. 

Luckily, cloudy skies only let loose with a brief drizzle, and through the encores of "Explain It to Me," "Fuck and Run" and "Divorce Song," Phair's voice sounded as strong and distinctive as ever.

And especially in my having lauded Hugh Jackman's appearance in my previous review, I don't believe I'm being crassly sexist in saying that into her 50s, Liz Phair still looks fantastic.

It was great to see her rocking out a few miles from where she grew up--and 10 minutes from my current home--and as she frequently flashed an infectious smile to an adoring, sold out crowd, I clearly wasn't the only one having more than a Phair amount of fun.

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