YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO LIZ PHAIR IS.
Craziness done, back to regular updates.
We went to see Spoon at the Annex on Wednesday night -- their "Believing Is Art" is "our" song. The show sold out, which kind of surprised me, since Cave In and Piebald couldn't put 50 people in the place last time I was there. Spoon don't tour as often as you'd think a band still trying to shake off majorlabelitis would, so I was really glad for the opportunity to see them.
Opening was something called Thee Shams -- spelled "thee" but pronounced "the." They appeared to be trying to split both the artistic and temporal differences between Led Zeppelin and Black Crowes, as if reimagined by Guided By Voices. Given that Guided By Voices basically splits the difference between the Beatles and Half Japanese, that would've been an impressive thing to pull off, if they had. They didn't, though. They just sucked. Neither competent nor interesting, all they did was waste precious time.
Spoon stuck mostly to material from their last two records, Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight, which was fine with me. They skipped three songs from Girls that I really wanted to hear ("Believing Is Art," "Take the Fifth" and "Chicago at Night") but the bunch they did play reminded me just how much I think of Spoon as a singles band. They've got a lot of great songs that sometimes form great albums (Girls) and sometimes don't (Kill) but they sort of meld together when heard in a live setting. Very enjoyable show, however, and I'm looking forward to their new album, The Beast and Dragon Are Adored, from which they played a couple songs.
On Thursday we went to Summerfest to see OK Go and Liz Phair. I saw OK Go at Summerfest two years ago, when I'd never heard of them. They put a great show on then, and another one this year. I'd love to see a live DVD from these guys, since they have such great stage presence that just doesn't translate to an audio-only medium. About halfway into their set, the frontman broke a string and they had to wait until the guitar got restrung to continue. But instead of just standing around, he and the bass player dove into an acappella rendition of a scene from Les Miserables, both singing quite well and hamming it up for the crowd. Later they dedicated "Hello, My Treacherous Friends" to George Bush and demanded that the crowd vote him out of office. That was followed by a vote on whether they would cover the Violent Femmes' "Prove Your Love" or Toto's "Hold the Line." Toto won, and their version of the song was pretty faithful, if significantly ratcheted up on the exciteable dork scale. They ended their set with a boy band-style dance routine to a recording of their "C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips," which, again, was clearly informed by their rock dorkness. Everybody loved it.
Then there were some fireworks.
Liz Phair came on at 11:00, to a crowd that seemed about equally as interested in her old, indie material as her new, sellout material. I'm really of two minds about her set. I'm a big fan of the first Liz Phair. I'm probably in the minority of her fans, but I think Whitechocolatespaceegg is her masterpiece and one of the great adult pop records of the 1990's. When she came out wearing a turquoise tube-top and one of those Janet Jackson mics to open with a full-band version of "Flower," I was kind of surprised. First of all, she had a terrible time singing in time with the beat, throughout the set. I've never seen her live, so I don't know what that was about; her drummer was mediocre at best, which may have been the problem. But more to the point, she just seemed so uncomfortable the entire time. A roadie came out to switch her guitar after every song, except for the two when he just took her guitar away. Note to execs at Capitol: Never, ever take Liz Phair's guitar away again. She's not an eight-year-old being forced into ballet lessons, and we're not overeager parents.
As she sang "Rock Me," the only great moment from last year's self-titled, Avril Lavigne-ganking album, she sort of walked back and forth around a guitar sitting on a rack (a rack which, apparently, couldn't just store all the guitars that the roadie kept bringing on and off). The song is about hooking up with some young guy that doesn't know Liz was almost somebody important ten years ago. As she got to the couplet that goes, "Your record collection don't exist/You don't even know who Liz Phair is," I got the feeling that she really did want to do this material, knowing what would happen to her, because she could use it to smuggle "Divorce Song," "Johnny Feelgood" and "Fuck and Run" to the people that just want more "Extraordinary." It seemed an amazing kind of self-sacrificing follow-through, giving up her credibility and artistic license, if only temporarily, to get the art where it needs to go. She kept saying stupid shit for the rest of the set ("You wanna help me pick a single?"), and not knowing what to do with her mic, and pulling at her pop-star tube-top. She played full-band versions of "Chopsticks" and "Mesmerizing," a slightly extended jam on "Divorce Song" and a sneery version of her first attempt to get on the radio, 1994's "Supernova." She played some songs I love and a lot I like and some I wish had been lost in some kind of taxi mishap two years ago. But as she smiled through so many ragged lyrics ("Fuck and run, fuck and run/Even when I was seventeen/Fuck and run, fuck and run/Even when I was twelve") she seemed more Bret Michaels than Kristen Hersh, or even Michelle Branch.
It took five years to make Liz Phair, which leads me to believe she's got a significant stockpile of other songs to record. I hope she gets to it quickly and puts her commercial effectiveness where her mouth is.