- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2003

“We were in that little blackout thing in New York,” Liz Phair giggled before a sold-out 9:30 Club Saturday night. Her gentle sarcasm wasn’t intended as an excuse, but either last week’s massive power outage sapped Miss Phair’s energy, or she simply couldn’t generate any high voltage. Instead, the singer and songwriter came off as a lethargic, disaffected yet glamorous rock star, exhibiting only scattered surges of verve here and there through a pint-size set lasting just under an hour.

On the heels of her 2003 CD “Liz Phair” (Capitol), widely panned in the rock press as “sell-out” pop, expectations ran high that Miss Phair would redeem herself with an edgier live performance combining new and more well-received older material. Unfortunately for Miss Phair’s twenty- and thirty-something mostly female fans at the 9:30 Club, she didn’t quite pull it off. Looking lovely in a black tank-top mini-dress with not a gorgeous blond lock out of place, she hardly left her spot at the microphone, and couldn’t have broken a sweat.

“She just sort of stood there, and so did everybody else in the crowd,” said a dejected fan after the show. Sandwiched between forgettable sets by Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche and budding pop sensation and co-headliner Jason Mraz, Miss Phair and her four-piece band (whom she neglected to introduce) mailed in a mediocre performance. She played just 13 songs, almost exclusively from her superb 1993 debut “Exile in Guyville” (Capitol) and her eponymous new CD.

Miss Phair opened the show with her trademark snarl and guitar slung low, enticing the crowd with a cool rendition of “Guyville“‘s carefully crafted, stripped down rocker, “6‘1.” But

after this promising start any magic quickly evaporated as “Divorce Song,” another “Guyville” favorite, underscored Miss Phair’s

adroit songwriting but became muddled by a heavy bass line absent the tune’s trademark bluesy harmonica riff.

During “Why Can’t I?,” her new CD’s only hit single, Miss Phair looked barely awake and sadly unsure of herself and her song. Worse, the album’s “Rock Me,” a number in which the 36-

year-old Miss Phair sings of dating younger guys who “don’t even know

who Liz Phair is,” proved unconvincing.

“Red Light Fever” romped somewhat joyfully, getting the crowd moving, but Miss Phair’s enthusiasm never fully switched on. Conversely, on “Extraordinary,” Miss Phair established compelling eye contact with the audience as she beautifully intoned, “I’m just your ordinary, average, everyday, sane/psycho super-goddess.”

“Favorite,” another new ditty, in which Miss Phair coos, “You feel like my favorite underwear,” did not disappoint. The crowd rallied and sang along to the catchy yet sophomoric lyrics. Unbelievably, a stroll past Miss Phair’s tour bus parked outside the 9:30 Club, revealed an open side window showing off several pairs of pink and purple women’s undergarments visibly on display. One could only wonder if indeed these were her favorites.

Despite the concert’s overall hollowness, Miss Phair sparked a connection with some of the 9:30 Club audience. “She makes me want to learn to play guitar,” said one Phair admirer.

Known for her at times tawdry, sexually explicit lyrics, Miss Phair delivered a heavy dose Saturday night. She closed her set with “Flower,” a “Guyville” anthem of dirty sexual healing, to varied reactions — some sang along, others covered their ears.

Miss Phair didn’t play an encore. The capacity crowd (900) was left limp and pondering why she departed the stage after such a short performance.

Clearly missing were “Guyville” classics “Never Said,” and “Mesmerizing.” As for her best new material, “Little Digger” and the bawdy “HWC” — like those caught in the blackout, never saw the light.

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