LOS ANGELES -- In a way, the mood established onstage just before
Liz Phair's set-opener was the exact opposite of what was to come.
There was a mystique in the image of Phair's shadow taking shape on the
closed, white curtain as the Mayan Theatre's stage lights brightened. With
the shape of a guitar neck extending from its centerpoint, the silhouette
was almost iconic, like a symbol of a rock performer as a mythic,
But as the curtain opened, revealing the woman behind it, the air of
mystery immediately dissolved.
The real Phair, wearing a long dress with sections of white, brown and
black, appeared much smaller than her shadow. And as she launched into
"Explain It To Me," from her 1993 debut album, Exile
in Guyville, Phair smiled shyly, less a stagy, overblown rock star than
a bona-fide girl-next-door.
Phair's one-hour show Thursday night at the beautiful downtown theater had
an intimate, personal feel throughout, with the singer/songwriter -- who's
known for her confessional and frank lyrics -- exuding a friendly, playful
vibe. At one point, she wished a fan happy birthday; at another, she
engaged in a brief conversation with a man on the upstage balcony about a
mutual friend. "Does she still live in San Francisco?" Phair asked the
balcony guy. "Tell her I said hi."
"She's charming and she's genuine, which is refreshing," red-haired
concert-goer Christa Clark said after the show.
"Her stage demeanor reflects the honesty of her lyrics," agreed Mark
Owens, 25, of Newport Beach, Calif.
Despite Phair's deceiving silhouette at the beginning of the show, the night's intimate feel was established prior to Phair and her
four-piece backup band taking the stage. For a full half-hour, slides
picturing Phair in a variety of private settings and poses were projected
onto a white curtain at the back of the stage. Though the idea seemed more
than a little self-indulgent, it did serve the purpose of establishing the
night's mood and setting the tone for the carefully choreographed staging
and lighting to come.
Phair opted for more of an upbeat show instead of predominately relying on
her ballad-heavy new album, whitechocolatespaceegg. While she played
six songs from the new release, she drew liberally from the more rocking
Exile in Guyville, as well as taking three excerpts from 1996's
The first new song that Phair played was the fourth number of the night,
Chocolate Space Egg." With the back curtain shaded by
blue and gray lights, the song carried a moody feel as the band sustained a
somewhat drony sonic backdrop to Phair's spoken/sung vocals.
The skillful backup band had its best moment on Phair's 1996 hit
"Supernova." With disco balls twirling on either corner
of the stage, the performance exuded an intense, neo-retro vibe. That feel
was sustained in the next number, "What Makes You Happy," the chorus of which
featured '70s-style wah-wah guitars.
Before playing the raunchy number "Flower," from Exile, Phair
accepted a bouquet of flowers from a frontline fan, saying in a girlish
tone, "I'll take a flower." Then, as she and her background singer
co-delivered the vocals -- which includes the lyric about "a cunt in the
spring" as well as the threat to "suck you 'til your dick turns blue" --
images of butterflies and flowers were projected onto the back curtain.
For an encore, Phair delivered an intimate, solo rendition of the beautiful
"Perfect World" (RealAudio excerpt). The band then rejoined her for a
rollicking finale that began with Phair asking the audience, teasingly,
"What's that? 'Duck and Run ... Suck and Come'?" before kicking into her debut
"Fuck and Run" (RealAudio excerpt) against a backdrop of red stars
twirling inside bright-white circles.
It was a far different Phair than the stage-shy performer from years past.
As the song drew to a close, a guitar-less Phair got even looser with a
goofy-looking, flamboyant dance, hopping while flapping her hands through
Meanwhile, a female fan in the crowd mimicked Phair's motions, working her
way through the venue's entire bottom-floor as she danced.
"I had a really weird experience because I'm not used to sharing her," said
the fan, 39-year-old Amy Died, after the show. "I feel like I have an
intimate relationship with her because I'm a sculptor and I listen to her
while I work. It was just odd hearing other people get into 'Fuck and Run.' "