Liz Phair - Live in Hollywood

Avalon Theater 9/17/03

Music Reviews Liz Phair
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Liz Phair - Live in Hollywood

Clad in diamond-studded pumps and an off-the-shoulder sparkly dress a la Pat Benatar, Liz Phair takes the stage of the Avalon Theater in the heart of Hollywood. The recently renovated venue sits in the shadow of the Capitol Records building—the unmistakable tower that houses Phair’s current label.

The Avalon is wall-to-wall with well-heeled 20 to 30-somethings, though seats in the pricier loge are still available as the show begins. Phair opens the set, acoustic guitar in hand, belting out "Polyester Bride" with supreme confidence. She wastes no time, plugging in for the ‘May-December relationship’ anthem, "Rock Me," a track from her new self-titled release.

Liz Phair has been largely touted as an overproduced departure from the artist’s last three, slightly more organic, efforts. Sadly, the album’s electronically-enhanced vocals prove difficult for Phair to belt out live. Perhaps her well-documented stage fright is pinching her vocal chords. And as if it were only a prop, she never strums the guitar she’s holding.

Phair attempts another track from the new album, "Red Light Fever." This being her sixth song of the night, she seems to finally settle down and accept the notion that she’s standing in front of a tough, industry crowd. Asking for the house lights to be raised, she says, "I like to look at you guys. This is f---ing Los Angeles. I can do whatever I want, right?"

Riding the wave, Phair immediately crunches into a fantastic rendition of "Uncle Alvarez," marking the seventh inning stretch of her concert. Little does the audience know—they'll only get four more songs before the encore. In mid-stride, Phair shows a little spontaneity, deciding to change the set list by launching into a solo version of "My Favorite Underwear."

Just when things are getting good, she attacks another of the overproduced numbers from the new album, "Extraordinary," with poor results. Again, her shaking voice isn’t able to carry the song, even with her male back-up singers trying to bail her out. Her young bass player’s falsetto doesn’t do enough to salvage things, either. But Phair’s stellar, flawless version of "F--- and Run," makes up for the aforementioned failures, as does her performance of "Why Can't I."

It seems all sins are forgiven when she pulls out the crowd-pleasing, "Supernova." But rather than continue the set, Phair leaves the stage, finally returning for a two-song encore that wraps up the short, hour and 20 minute show with "Johnny Feel Good."

Perhaps Phair should have closed with "F--- and Run" instead—it seemed to more accurately reflect the audience member’s collective facial expressions as they poured out the door onto the Hollywood streets.