Liz Phair's 2003 glossy pop album, self-titled, branded her as a sellout, and the ongoing debate about her authenticity may never be resolved. But the capacity crowd at the Birchmere on Thursday night didn't seem to care. Fans pestered her with requests ranging from her earliest demo recordings to tracks from that last album. She embraced both sides of her career, whispering an impromptu version of a raunchy song, "Flower," from her first album, "Exile in Guyville," to appease a fan. But when Phair took an applause-o-meter poll to pick a song for her encore, the audience chose her most recent off-color song, "HWC," over any of her earlier material.
While the show's acoustic setting forced such older songs as "Supernova" to lose their growl, it made some of the newer ones, removed from their slickly produced studio setting, more palatable. The overly cheesy "Why Can't I?" came across as sweet and sincere, even more so because of the obvious warmth she showed accompanist Dino Meneghin.
Phair also previewed several songs from her forthcoming album, "Somebody's Miracle": The title song and the mushy "Everything to Me" may well indicate a continuation of Phair's lovey-dovey pop phase. But with its pensive look at alcoholism, "Table for One" was one of the few songs during which Phair didn't smile. Despite her flip apology ("Even at my ripe old age, I can't promise I won't bum you out!"), the song's sincere sentiment revealed hints of the old Phair beneath her polished exterior.
-- Catherine P. Lewis