The trouble with riding a wave of over-anticipation, as both Liz Phair and the Spinanes demonstrated last week, is that unless you’ve mastered the art of walking on water, that same wave will eventually crash down on you.
Chicago singer-songwriter Phair’s wave is, or rather was, a particularly large beast, boosting the newcomer and her Matador debut, “Exile in Guyville,” to the top of most 1993 critic’s polls. The Village Voice and Spin magazine even went so far as to name the album the best release of the year.
And while that album’s raw, uncensored look at the world through the eyes of an excitable, straight-talking feminist did make it one of last year’s most intriguing listens, her stage presentation — never her strong suit — still hasn’t caught up with the rest of her.
Stiff and often appearing uncomfortable, Phair and her band stuck to simply offering by-the-numbers versions of her songs, many of them new and unreleased, without seeking any additional avenues, emotional or otherwise, to further explore the often heady subjects addressed therein.
Aside from college radio hit “Never Said,” which scored as a dynamic, well-crafted pop song, no moment stood out from any other at this 65-minute show.
Until the encore, that is, when Phair, alone under a spotlight, launched into “Flower,” her most infamous song.
Speaking more than actually singing, Liz offered a barrage of unprintable promises to a would-be lover that titillated the packed (though, for the most part, quiet) crowd. But it was a curious ending to a disappointing show from an artist whose huge promise has yet to be fulfilled.
Minimalist folky rock duo the Spinanes — also the subject of much hype for their dynamic Sub Pop debut, “Manos”– opened the show. But on stage here, the songs’ simple arrangements and the duo’s inability to add much character to them (there’s only so much that a guitar and a drum can do) resulted in a repetitive, underwhelming presentation.