As Le Divorce got things going last night, the room was pretty crowded, a nice change from the typical turnout for opening acts. It was entirely appropriate that Le Divorce opened for Liz Phair, seeing as how frontwoman Kitty Vincent has a way of turning awkward between-song banter and seemingly clumsy, self-effacing humor into something curiously endearing, not unlike the headliner.
Beyond that, the group's mixture of dusky atmospheres and sometimes charging, sometimes spinning dynamics coupled with occasional undercurrents of jazz structure allowed for subtle emotional textures. Chris Durant and Ryan Stubbs provided the perfect springboard for Joe Grobelny's borderline spastic stage antics to match his musical gyrations on guitar. By the end of its set, people seemed to be refreshingly into Le Divorce, which closed with one of its best numbers, "Splinter Song."
Apparently Liz Phair and her bandmates had a good day on the town or something, because they all came on stage in good spirits, and after performing "Supernova," Phair remarked on how she loved playing Denver because the crowds were pretty rowdy. She added that when she played here last, she performed nervously, with just her and a guitar, but that the crowd was nice to her. This crowd was surprisingly giving and enthusiastic, and Phair and company fed off of that energy and gave much of themselves back. That's what makes for a great show at any time from anyone.
Phair's set largely comprised tracks from Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg. There were some minor technical difficulties, inevitable on any tour at some point, but Phair laughed it off and dealt with the problems with good humor and patience, as if she's been through this so often that not only doesn't it faze her, but she's totally prepared for the show to go on, regardless.
After "May Queen," Phair joked, "Let's have a contest and see what else can go wrong." Despite these interruptions, the momentum of the show didn't really seem to flag. In fact, Phair said, "Maybe we could just play 'Flower'" and asked if anyone in the audience could do the backing vocals. One guy got up on stage and floundered a little, to which Phair said he needed a little help. At that point, she brought up a girl from the crowd, and together they all performed the Phair classic.
All of the songs served as a reminder that Phair has written some of the more brashly inspired lyrics of the last two decades, and her music this time out recalled early Pretenders in its use of melody and rhythm. Phair still had that mischievous but friendly girl vibe to her performance, but it was bolstered by the confidence she's built for herself over the last several years getting used to performing in front of audiences.
Between songs, she directly engaged people who spoke to her from off stage and made it an amusing part of the show. She had a real way of getting us on her side against any technical difficulties because of her unaffected charm. After "Perfect World," for example, Phair told us she really dug our cabbies because they were friendly, whereas cabbies in certain other cities were kind of grumpy.
The band followed this up with a performance of "Why Can't I Breathe," a song whose album version, Phair explained, had a bit of a dog sound at the end of it because there was an Australian herding dog in the studio named "Piggy" that made those sounds into a mike, and she and the producer decided to keep them.
Before the last song of the main set, the lead guitarist teased a bit of "Spirit of Radio," by Rush, and Phair encouraged him to keep going with her smiles and laughter, and so he and the drummer played a good fifth of the song as Phair imitated Geddy Lee. When they were done messing around, Phair laughingly said, "Now my songwriting seems so sad in comparison: 'Rinky-dink, rinky-dink.'"
She quickly recovered from that moment of amusement and told us, "But this next one you all know and love, and it's a good one," before kicking into "Fuck and Run." We sure did, and the band left the stage only to come back for four more songs.
At that point, Phair asked if Tiffany Jones was in the audience, because the first song of the encore was partly about her, and indeed Tiffany was there. Phair hugged her from the stage after verifying a story from their childhood together about how they all knew five girls whose names began with a "T" and that the song, "Girls' Room," was about them.
After plugging Pete Yorn's upcoming show in Denver in February, Phair and company ended the show with a song from her 2003 self-titled album, "Why Can't I?"
If some silly major label dropped the woman who performed last night because she wanted to put out her version of an experimental pop album, they should have their collective heads examined, because Liz Phair was better than ever.
Click through for Critic's Notebook and Setlist.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Liz Phair is an often overlooked important songwriter that emerged in the 1990s. Random Detail: Ran into Robin Edwards of Lust-Cats of the Gutters. By the Way: Funstyle is a far better record than most of Phair's detractors seem to be able to admit.
Liz Phair 01.18.10 | Bluebird Theater
01. Supernova 02. 6'1" 03. Help Me, Mary 04. Divorce Song 05. May Queen 06. Flower 07. Never Said 08. And He Slayed Her 09. Polyester Bride 10. Perfect World 11. Why Can't I Breathe? 12. Oh, Bangladesh 13. Extraordinary 14. Stratford-On-Guy 15. Fuck and Run
16. Girls' Room 17. Soap Star Joe 18. Johnny Feelgood 19. Why Can't I?
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