Sunday, November 16th, 2003
The Liz Phair in-store yesterday afternoon, a half-hour acoustic set with just her and her guitarist, was pretty good – or at least it sounded good. So large was the crowd that I couldn’t see a damn thing. Didn’t see one bit of her through the whole performance, though I did catch a glance of the top of her head when she got up to leave. I think. I spent the set listening to the music and reading the backs of Criterion Collection DVDs (making note to try and rent some Kurosawa films – they look interesting). Her voice was stronger than I expected and more on key than I expected, and she opened and closed with older (read: better) material. A promising portent for the full show later, hopefully.
To kill time before the show, saw The Secret Lives Of Dentists – a film I knew nothing about going in save that Denis Leary was in it. I had thought that it was a comedy, but despite some funny scenes, it’s really not. Campbell Scott and Hope Davis are married dentists with three young daughters, dealing with the ennui that sets in after ten years of marriage. Scott, who is looking a helluva lot like Kevin Kline, suspects Davis is having an affair and grapples with how to handle the situation while managing his family. Leary starts off as an acerbic patient and becomes voice to Scott’s inner turmoil – an imaginary Great Gazoo type of character. Naturally, he gets the best jokes and lines. Overall, it’s a small, very intimate and effective film with some terrific performances. A pleasant surprise.
Wheat are one of those little bands I’d adopted as my own back in the summer of 2000, after hearing some snippets on the CBC, of all places, and on the recommendation of my friend Dave. Before long, Hope And Adams was soundtracking my life. Since that time, they’ve been through label troubles and the new record, Per Second, Per Second, Per Second… Every Second has been a long, long time in coming – as I’ve documented over the last while. I’ve mostly come to terms with their trading in much of their hazy, dreamy mid-fi indie-pop sound for sharp, polished rock, and was curious to see how their live show had changed since their last jaunt to Toronto for NXNE in 2000. I thoroughly enjoyed their half-hour set, so happy was I to finally be able to see them again and get the new album that all reservations I had about their new sound and major label debut evaporated. Scott’s voice has gotten a lot stronger though his stage banter could still use some work. They crammed a lot of material into their half-hour set and seemed to be having a terrific time. Hopefully they won over some of the crowd. It was also fun to be able to buy the new CD from drummer Brendan Harney (since, contrary to what Scott said onstage, it has NOT been released in Canada, or at least not so that you could tell). Our converstaion – Me: “Hey Brendan, great show”. He: “Thanks – hey, did you just call me by my name?” Me: “Yeah, I came mostly to see you guys”. He: “Wow, thanks a lot”. (handshake) It’s the little things, y’know?
I’d never seen Liz live before (before this afternoon, anyway), and really didn’t know what to expect. The last reviews I’d read were circa Whip-Smart and the recurring theme was how her stage fright tended to torpedo her shows. Seems she’s over that now. I’ll sum up her show in easy-to-read point form for the attention deficit disordered among us.
1) The setlist, mostly. There was healthy representation from the earlier albums, particularly Whitechocolatespaceegg and Exile In Guyville. I think she knew what most of the crowd was there to hear (though they did cheer loudly for “Why Can’t I”).
2) The energy. The crowd was stoked, Liz had a perma-grin on her face, good vibes all around.
1) The sound. Liz had elected to use one of those headset mics favored by Madonna, Garth Brooks and Britney, and it was not a good idea. Besides eliminating the ability to use the mic as an instrument (it’s hard to move around a mic when it’s fixed in front of your mouth), it rendered the vocals terribly shrill and strident. When Liz went for the high notes, it was time to cover your ears. Plus the bass was too loud and muddy. The mix never sounded natural.
2) The new material. Alongside the older stuff, it just seems toothless and bland. Maybe on its own it doesn’t seem so obvious, but side-by-side, it couldn’t hold a candle – musically or lyrically.
3) The guy standing behind me. For fuck’s sake, STOP SCREAMING. She’s not going to come into the crowd and screw you or anything. His voice hurt more than the PA.
1) The number of kids there. Like under 10 years old kids. I realize the tickets say ‘all ages’, but that’s not a request. It looked as though some fourth-grade teacher decided a Liz Phair concert would make a fine field trip for her pupils.
2) These same kids singing and dancing to tunes like “Flower”, “Rock Me” and “Supernova”, tunes with decidedly, er, mature themes and raunchy lyrics. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but that’s just not right.
3) The crowd in general. If Liz’s goal was to reach as broad an audience as possible, I’d say she was successful. There were the kids, the top 40 radio drones, the indie hipsters not too put off by the new record and, of course, the dirty old men. Who were out in force.
1) Liz’s skirt. Yow.
So the show was decent, which was a relief. I had feared it would be the official “How A Major Label Fucked Up A Decent Indie Artist Tour 2003”, but it was alright. Wheat were great, Liz was sorta patchy but decent overall. I wish I brought my camera – as I found out when I got there, their only policy was no flashes, which would have been fine with me. I guess digital cameras are so commonplace now that they’d have to confiscate them from half the audience if they tried.
np – Wheat / Medeiros