OK, so we were late to the Liz Phair show at Mercy Lounge Sunday night. Like, really late. But listen, if you showed up to a restaurant at 5 p.m., you'd expect to be able to make an 8 p.m. show, right? Right? Even if it was an eight-course meal with dancing and a costume show and soup for dessert, right? So sorry, Sleeper Agent, we missed your set. When we walked up to Mercy, however, we thought maybe you were somehow still playing, or that maybe the Drive-By Truckers show had been moved from Third Man, because some kind of shit-kicking bar band was up there dealing out some wicked licks over a big, vaguely Southern, three-chord rock progression and literally shaking the Mercy staircase as we walked up it. But no, it was Liz Phair and her band, already well into their set, tearing the place up and whipping up the olds into a hot white froth.
Through myriad guitar changes and a Guyville-heavy set, Phair had the crowd eating out of her hand — from the googly-eyed guys up front who couldn't take their eyes off her to the line of young women dancing near the back. Phair, in a sparkly one-sleeved dress, looked happy and well-adjusted, and in a weird way, just her being there made us feel sort of happy and well-adjusted, too. Nevermind that Guyville got us through (and probably led us straight into) some dark times — it was a veritable party in the U.S.A., and it felt damn good.
Phair's band was tight and, well, almost too tight sometimes. It's not that we don't appreciate a well-oiled musical supertanker as much as the next pseudonymous show reviewer, but there were times when the watch-like precision and Phair's tossed-off deadpan felt like odd stagefellows. Like, if suddenly there was some metronomic pack of session dudes up there backing up The Frogs or something. But whatever, the band was really good. Liz Phair was really good! And she was funny, too, busting out lines of dialogue from Raising Arizona — "You ate sand?" — and teasing her guitar player for knowing "every Rush song" but not knowing Steve Miller's "Jungle Love," which she sang a few bars of to try jogging his memory. (His response: "Is that a Triumph song?") Also, she didn't rap.
Among many highlights, "Mesmerizing" sounded utterly badass, we were forced to re-examine our relationship to "Extraordinary" and shouting "letters and sodas!" never felt so good. As has become part of Phair's live ritual, she asked if a member of the audience would join her to sing "Flower." The first volunteer shied away when Phair invited her onstage, but one very eager person, who was jumping up and down like that kid who knows the answer, finally caught Phair's eye. "A dude?" she asked, seeming to tacitly address all the women in the room. Soon enough, a rail-thin Brian took the mic, sang his heart out — "Just hum it," Phair eventually ordered, though he was way too into it to notice — and threatened to steal the show with a series of lascivious, round-the-world-and-back hip swivels.
After closing the main set with "Fuck and Run," and leaving the stage to the sort of applause that actual merits the encore, Phair played a short second set that included a sharp rendition of "Soap Star Joe" and a less-than-inspired run through "Why Can't I." As we drove home, that awful song "Pretty Girl Rock" — it's a song about being pretty — came on the radio, and we couldn't help thinking the world needs Liz Phair now more than ever.