Well into last night's Hiro Ballroom performance of her seminal debut, Exile in Guyville (which has just been reissued after fifteen years), the crowd's ardent response finally seemed to sink in for Liz Phair. "I knew this was going to be the best fucking show," she gushed, clearly relieved. Phair has had an up-and-down relationship with critics and her fans, from the crushing stage fright that dogged her early shows to the hostile reviews that greeted her later, more glittery pop songs (which never caught on with the Top 40 types, anyway). But last night the adoration washed over her — appreciative shouts even threatened to drown out parts of the set's quieter songs.
The night was billed, correctly, as "An Evening With Liz Phair": It was an unassuming band backing her up, as she sang in a voice much improved from her earlier days — and sounded a little rusty on the guitar. The unfamiliarity with her own material, which she alluded to several times, didn't slow Phair down, and anyway, her shimmying, swaying, and guitar poses were all the commitment the audience needed to see (it probably didn't hurt that she claimed Guyville is her "New York record"). More than once she said the night was going by too fast, and she was right: Once she played through the album, there were only three songs for an encore, including an untitled new tune that seemed a bit unfinished. The only question at the end of this exhilarating night, though, was whether fans will keep an open mind listening her next album, which will be released on Dave Matthews's ATO Records. —Ehren Gresehover