Story and photos by Matt SchwenkePulling from an album catalogue that is more than ten years deep, Liz Phair's performance at the Pabst Theatre was diverse in song selection but consistently unconvincing. Starting the night alone on stage with an acoustic, Phair delivered a well-sung "Closer To You" from her latest release Somebody's Miracle, which displayed her vocal talent, some interesting folk sensibilities and some decent strumming. With the band filling the stage for the odd sounds of "Polyester Bride," so left the emotion that sprang from Phair's voice during her acoustic opening. The overworked pop of songs like "Lazy Dreamer" and "Stars and Planets" felt as if Phair was merely going through the motions early in the set, and the songs seemed to wash from one into another. The fact that almost everyone remained sitting during the show may have caused the low-energy feel or may have been in response to the feeling that something was lacking in this rock show.
Shining moments did sparkle here and there (sitting or not, the crowd remained full to the end), and Phair's self-described "chatty Kathy" moments made up for some of the dull deliveries. Receiving updates of the White Sox's World Series game from a fan in the crowd throughout the night, Phair interacted with the crowd often and later belted out her version of "God Bless America" that she recently performed at Comiskey Park. While the title track from the new album provided a catchy, Tom Petty-like americana, it was the songs from Exile In Guyville and Whip Smart that packed the most creative punch. The raw rock of "Help Me, Mary" and the breakdown and jam segments of "Divorce Song" brought out the grittier and more believable side of Phair, and "Supernova" proved Phair can rock with the electric buzz of a Lenny Kravitz.
Stepping away from the formulaic pop sounds that dominated the evening, Phair was ironically most striking in her show-ending performance of "Chopsticks"-- a gently pulsing tune that featured Phair on piano singing sincerely with emo-like guitar effects accenting the mood. When outside of the seemingly too comfortable pop box, Phair was extraordinary. But as most of the night was inside those banal confines, Phair was especially ordinary.
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