Liz Phair | March 1, 2004 | The Warfield | San Francisco

Not being a Liz Phair aficionado, I had practically no preconceived notions upon entering The Warfield to see her perform. I did some pre-show prep and listened to the newest album (Liz Phair, 2003) and then the first album (Exile in Guyville, 1993) before the show. Upon listening to the difference in these releases, and talking with some long-time fans at the show, it seems that people are generally disappointed with the new one. There is a definite overproduced and more "poppy" quality to the new album. This seems to be a variation on a common theme among bands and their fans as time moves on. Old fans become jaded and their opinion of new fans and the new music may be one of disregard.

That being said, the question before she began was, will she play new or old stuff? I had the new album fresh in my mind and thankfully I had a long-time fan behind me clueing me in to the old stuff. (Thanks Randy!) Throughout her hour and a half set, Phair hit both the old and new, drawing a mixed reaction from the crowd. Opening with "Flower" from Exile and an early "Polyester Bride" from Whitechocolatespaceegg (1998), she then dove into her new material with the cheesy "Rock Me." "Divorce Song" was a crowd pleaser for the sing-alongers, and she gave us some piano love on "Chopsticks" from her second album Whip-Smart (1994). Phair performed the majority of her latest album including "Why Can't I," "Extraordinary," "Love/Hate," "Friend of Mine," and the two attempts at raunchiness that came out a little more sweet than probably intended, "Favorite" and "H.W.C." (I don't really want to tell you what that acronym stands for.)

Overall, her singing did not blow me away and as I watched and listened I realized that possibly it was not her musicianship or her abilities as a singer that drew people to her. She has a real honest spirit that really connects her to her fans. I watched young women (and men too) singing along and smiling up at her throughout the whole show. There is something very redeeming seeing a girl dressed in pink holding an electric guitar. Whether she did much more than swing it around while subtly shaking her stuff is another story but that image is something significant.

The real gem of the evening for me was the first opening act, Rachael Yamagata. She had a completely overpowering voice that was unfaltering as her range spanned a wide spectrum. Rachel's set was mostly her solo on acoustic guitar or keyboard/piano--other songs she was accompanied by a guitarist. She had a very quirky and almost awkward way about her as she told the audience that she was singing the next song about her ex-boyfriend's ex-girlfriend. Yamagata and her guitar player, Cameron, agreed that they were currently on the "Heartbreak Tour." Her mouth forms a natural frown as she chants, "Won't live for you, die for you, or do anything anymore for you," and "Not going to shed a tear for you" over and over until the last line of "at least until Sunday afternoon."

I'm interested in what is going to happen with Ms. Yamagata. Her voice is just so powerful and the numbers she did with her guitar player made me imagine her at the helm of a great rock band. Upon further investigation, it seems that Rachael has come to this solo act by way of the Chicago-based Bumpus, described in her bio as this "funk-soul groove-oriented band with really well-crafted songs." Hmmm…. that sounds suspiciously jammy to me! Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing more from this unlikely heroine.

The second opener was Patrick Park, who came out for three solo songs with an acoustic guitar and then was joined by a bassist and drummer. While he had great range and decent intonation, there was nothing especially interesting about his singing voice, which was the centerpiece of his performance.

Overall, this was a good night for witnessing the craft of three intelligent and honest songwriters. I wasn't too upset that there weren't ripping guitar solos--ya gotta branch out from time to time!

Words: SuperDee
Photos: John Croxton
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[Published on: 3/5/04]

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