“It’s been 30 years,” the indie-rock singer Liz Phair said, sounding genuinely amazed in front a cheering crowd at her sold-out show in Brooklyn, New York’s Kings Theatre Friday night in reference to the anniversary of her debut album Exile in Guyville. She quickly followed that with a performance of the pointed rocker “F*** and Run,” one of the best-known songs from that record, in which the female narrator reflects about her love’em-then-leave’em boyfriend: “Just that I didn’t think this would happen again/With or without my best intentions.”
In some way, that song kind of encapsulates the theme and tone of Exile in Guyville, which, since its release on June 22, 1993, has become one of the greatest albums of all time. Viewed as an answer to the Rolling Stones’ 1972 double album Exile on Main St., Guyville remains a critically acclaimed and pioneering work in addressing the patriarchy, sexuality and sexism with frankness. Simultaneously, Phair’s minimalist and intimate approach to the music paved the way for future generations of female indie musicians including Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, boygenius, Frankie Cosmos and Blondshell (more about her later in this article).
“There is a wide field of young female artists that gives me incredible happiness to see; it’s incredibly compelling to me,” Phair told PopMatters in 2018 about the legacy of the album. I really want to listen to all their music, and I feel like there’s a whole nation speaking my language, in different tongues from different communities. I get it. It feels very familiar to me, recognizable and resonant with what I was feeling and what I was writing. So that’s great. But the fact that we’re still battling the same pressures and repression and injustice is just depressing.”
Sadly, not much has changed again in the five years since her comments, but at least for one night, Phair’s show–in which the singer and her ace band performed Guyville in its entirety–provided delight to the audience who first fell in love with her through the record: from the opener “6’1””, through the sexually charged “Flower” and “Divorce Song,” to “Stratford on Guy” and “Strange Loop.” The energy from Phair, who was justifiably beaming throughout the night, and the band never let down at once when it came to performing both Guyville’s rockers (“Help Me Mary,” “Never Said) and reflective numbers (“Shatter,” “Explain It to Me”).
Even after performing the album’s original 18 tracks, Phair and her band weren’t finished on stage. For the encore, she played her best-known non-Guyville songs: the scorching “Supernova” and the bouncy “Cinco De Mayo” from Whip-Smart and the standout “Polyester Bride” from Whitechocolatespaceegg – before concluding the night with the pop-rocker “Why Can’t I” from her self-titled 2003 album, which brought a feel-good vibe to the proceedings.
Phair said something quite poignant during the set that also sums up both the Guyville’s backstory and its three decades’ staying power: “I was thinking about this when I got back into this record, like how hard [you] fight when you’re young to make your dreams come true and how you struggle in darkness and uncertainty and rejection. And you go out at night every night looking for love…and you live and you die by the social scene and all you have back then is each other. Then you go beyond it and you find what you’re looking for. And when you get there, you realize that was an actually a magical place, like a liminal space between youth and adulthood—some of the best times of your life.”
As earlier mentioned, one of the many indie rock artists whose music bears Phair’s imprint is Blondshell, the stage moniker of singer Sabrina Teitelbaum, who opened the show. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles-based musician released her self-titled debut album to critical acclaim; Rolling Stone proclaimed her in a headline to be the “rage of this year.” Under the indie rock umbrella, Blondshell’s music incorporates traces of grunge, post-punk, shoegaze, metal and even pop (in a Billboard interview, Teitelbaum professed that she is a fan of Miley Cyrus). The music from the Blondshell album is pretty intense, but in the confines of Kings Theatre, it sounded even more harder-edged and explosive—case in point was when Teitelbaum and her tight-knit band kicked off with “Veronica Mars” (a reference to the popular Kristen Bell-led TV show from the 2000s), and proceeded to play a majority of the songs from the debut LP. The electrifying performances by the band complemented Teitelbaum’s introspective and feminist-minded lyrics: from the topic of anger in “Sepsis” to her “wanting to be seen as an entire person” in “Kiss City.” For her part, Teitelbaum projected a charisma that was also down-to-earth in her performance. Her nearly 40-minute set was the perfect warmup for Phair and provided a taste of more promising things to come in Blondshell’s career.