TVD Live: Liz Phair and Speedy Ortiz at the 9:30 Club, 10/3

PHOTO: ELIZABETH WEINBERG | Liz Phair looked happy and perky as she took the stage at a sold-out 9:30 Club last week to reignite memories for the audience—and of her own past memories at the storied DC club.

After this year’s quarter-century salute to her big splash, Exit in Guyville, Phair at 51 seems resigned to becoming the nostalgia act her audiences demand of her, playing seven of the 18 tracks famously purporting to be answers to the songs on Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. They were well sprinkled through the set, sparking the crowd when their familiar guitar riffs began.

But there was just one new song—an acoustic-backed ballad about “what else? heartbreak,” she said, nothing from her last album, 2010’s Funstyle, and just one from the one before it, 2005’s Somebody’s Miracle.

Fun as it was to hear the jolt of things like “Supernova” and “Extraordinary,” there was something reserved about her oldies performance. Prim in leather pants and accent jacket, she played the cool aunt, but not so much that she ever broke a sweat. In front of a largely generic four piece band that received only cursory intros, she not only had her guitar tech adorn her with each song’s instrument, he had to plug her in as well.

The set decor was top to bottom fake topiary, presumably owing to the “Amps on the Lawn Tour” theme. But plastic nature only helped underscore the lack of real grit in the performance.

Phair has never been a strong singer; she fits her best songs around her deadpan, nearly spoken delivery and limited range. Still, she could have used some backing vocals to bolster a sound that sounded a bit too thin to be as anthemic as the songs demanded. This eventually came a bit from the band, but was better resolved when Sadie Dupuis of the opening band Speedy Ortiz joined her to fulfill a request—“Blood Keeper,” which Speedy Ortiz had covered in advance of the tour. “It’s always nice to make one fan super happy,” Phair said in fulfilling the request. “Just one per night.”

Indeed Phair’s biggest effect on music may have not come in upending rock’s patriarchy but in inspiring young women to similarly express themselves with a guitar and ideas. The best example was right there in Speedy Ortiz, the Massachusetts band full of sharp sounds and clever lyrics, featuring a lot of songs that had an immediacy and political relevancy that the headliner’s did not.

More than that, Dupuis and the rest of her band jumped and churned and brought an urgency to their set. “Lucky 88” had something to do with Washington and its disheartening turn of events that week, with its line “”Try and work in this town without a silver spoon and foot in your mouth.” Another was specifically titled “Silver Spring.” And there was a one two punch about sexual harassment that cut to the core of the week, “I’m Blessed” and “Villain.”

Taken together, the two acts showed a heartening way the torch is being exhilaratingly passed between uncompromising female voices.

Johnny Feelgood
Cinco de Mayo
Uncle Alvarez
Everything to Me
Blood Keeper
Never Said
Help Me Mary
The Game
Go West
Polyester Bride
Why Can’t I?
Fuck and Run
Divorce Song

Buck Me Off
Lean In When I Suffer
Lucky 88
Raising the Skate
The Graduates
Tiger Tank
Silver Spring
I’m Blessed
Swell Content
Taylor Swift

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