Second Time's Charm for Phair

Liz Phair packed a lot into her 70-minute show.
Liz Phair packed a lot into her 70-minute show. (By Brendan Hoffman -- Getty Images)
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

It was hard not to feel awash in nostalgia at Liz Phair's sold-out show at the 9:30 club Thursday night. Looking back, after all, was the point. Phair was there to play her classic indie-rock album, "Exile in Guyville" -- all 18 songs, start to finish, from "6'1" " to "Strange Loop" -- and the enthusiastic 30- and 40-something crowd was along for the retrospective ride.

Fifteen years ago, when the album came out, Phair also played a show at the 9:30 -- at the club's old location, a dark, dank shell at 930 F St. NW that left a seemingly toxic stench on concertgoers. Phair's grit was more readily apparent, too: At 26, she kept her head down and plowed through the set, stopping only to apologize for her stage fright.

No such nerves were on display Thursday. Phair, a seasoned performer whose sultry good looks have not changed in a decade and a half, seemed at ease from the first note and looked genuinely moved by the audience's response. Or as she put it: "You guys are the best [bleeping] crowd. I swear to God."

Playing guitar with a three-piece band behind her, Phair cruised through such songs as "Soap Star Joe" and "Mesmerizing." The manipulative wit of "Girls! Girls! Girls!" still packed a punch, and for "Flower," a song so dirty it would make Prince stammer, she enlisted the help of two female fans to sing along. Still, nothing topped "Divorce Song," a crushingly bleak ode to a failed relationship that revealed itself again as perhaps the best breakup song ever written.

Early on, Phair had signaled that this would not be a late-night affair and that it would wrap up in time for anyone interested in getting home to catch the main event at the final night of the Democratic convention. "Nobody's gonna miss Obama tonight," she said. "Not on my watch." True to her word, the 70-minute show ended a little before 10, and she and her fans returned to the present.

-- Joe Heim

© 2008 The Washington Post Company