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Liz Phair & Blondshell - Roadrunner (Boston) - Nov 21, 2023

23 November 2023

You can only make your debut record once, so make the best of it. One could argue that Liz Phair released one of the most iconic debuts when 1993’s Exile In Guyville came out on indie powerhouse Matador Records on June 22, 1993. The material had its formative during some woodshedding sessions (bedroomshed?) that started life in ’91 and these demos were circulated in underground circles as the Girly-Sound tapes. A lot can change in thirty years, especially from the perspective of the person writing the songs then, to what that person is now and this is especially underscored with such deeply personal songs as is on Guyville.

A few books have been written about Phair (some close to the source and others yielding a somewhat sprawling reading into the nooks and crannies of that record). Maybe I should do a bit more digging, because though it’s been stated many times this is a song-by-song reply to the Rolling Stones’ 1972 classic, I still have yet to discover the parallel lines connecting the frank and stark declarations of Phair’s “Flower” to the gospel rave-up of “Let It Loose.” Clearly there are still mysteries to uncover within these songs.

Prior to “Dance Of The Seven Veils” Phair related that the song was in that liminal space between youth and adulthood, but she didn’t spend a lot time giving context of how or why she created these songs that resonate deeply over a couple of generations. Tonight’s comfortably full house was content with soaking up what they knew was coming, a song at a time. Tonight she would be backed by a four piece band, in marked contrast to the 2018 Girly-Sound tour she did as a duo with a just guitar sidekick. A few times the presentation of stripped-down material was slightly jarring from the muscle afforded by the band, most notably on “Glory.” A wise decision was made on Guyville closer “Strange Loop” to have the band gradually stop and leave the stage, with only Phair remaining with an acoustic guitar as the last bits of the song faded into the night.

For some, “Stratford-On-Guy” is the crown jewel of the record, its evocative lyrics and flanged guitar seared into the collective memory of the room. No word on whether locals Damon and Naomi were on hand to smile during the most famous Galaxie 500 namedrop.

The backdrop behind the band was filled with projections from her past, some of the famous photo booth Polaroids taken by Urge Overkill’s Nash Kato that were part of the Exile artwork and most notably the cover, and while the entire exercise could be branded as a shameless wallow in nostalgia, it never felt that way. Certain records are timeless for a reason, and by all reasonable measures Phair’s debut qualifies for that adjective. You’ve never wasted our time.

Blondshell made a quick return to Boston after playing the Middle East this summer, in a venue much more cavernous. Leader Sabrina Teitelbaum looked way calmer than most nascent performers getting a break and playing to crowds sizably larger than their normal gig. The loping churn of “Olympus” had strains of a song I could see Crazy Horse play, but when Teitelbaum prefaced “Kiss City” by saying they were going to play a song about kissing, well… let’s just say that I’m sure Neil Young would never utter those words onstage. The set standout was “Salad,” a thundering song fueled by Quincy’s own Anna Crane’s pounding floor toms, a vignette of red-eyed revenge. Strong debut record and matched with a band that delivers the material convincingly, Blondshell is one to watch.