For the first show on her three-city tour to promote the 15th anniversary reissue of Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair walked silently onto San Francisco’s Fillmore stage and launched into her landmark debut album’s conflicted opening rocker, “6′ 1″.” “I loved my life,” she sang, “and I hated you.” This would be the first of many lyrics to set off screams of remembrance and approval.
As she moved through each one of Guyville‘s 18 tracks in their original, perfectly paced sequence, Phair gained confidence, worrying less about her notes and connecting deeper with her sentiments. There were times when she appeared to be feeling them so strongly that the singer seemed to morph into the bold but vulnerable younger version of herself who crafted one of the key albums of the ’90s, one that opened the door to many women musicians and listeners previously locked outside of rock’s fraternity. Her eyes would wince in resentment as she’d sing the most wounded lines of “Canary,” or she’d swing her right arm against her guitar streings a little harder while emphasizing the most swaggering boasts of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”
At the time of Guyville‘s original release, Phair was an inexperienced performer dwarfed by the power of her own material. She’s now a far better singer and guitarist, and although it was clear Monday night that she and her three-piece backing band had rehearsed extensively, there was nevertheless a tangible moment-to-moment anticipation as they pieced her masterwork together. “I didn’t know if I could measure up, but it’s actually pretty great,” she admitted while addressing the raptly attentive crowd after “Glory.” For “Flower,” she propped her guitar between legs wrapped tight in white stockings and short denim cutoffs, swaying side to side while delivering immortal lines like “I’ll fuck you and your minions too.”
Although she returned solo for an improvised encore that sandwiched a tough new song between loose renditions of “Chopsticks” and “Polyester Bride,” nothing could match Phair’s smile as she hit the last chord of Guyville‘s concluding track, “Strange Loop.” If she’s ever been this satisfied, she’s never showed it.
• Liz Phair Q&A: Fifteen Years in “Guyville”