Liz Phair at the Civic Opera House

For a generation of women, Liz Phair‘s seminal debut album  “Exile in Guyville
served as a roadmap for navigating the murky waters of modern relationships. More than 20 years later, her point of view feels as fresh as ever, the sands of time adding wisdom to her prolific perspective.

When Phair took the stage at Chicago’s Civic Opera House – which she mentioned that she visited as a little girl – on April 14, she was armed with only a guitar and a smile… and an arsenal of hits that the sold-out crowd embraced with open arms. The lakefront love could be felt all around as Phair and her fellow Chicago natives the Smashing Pumpkins gave fans an unforgettable night of music in one of the most spectacular venues in the city.

Johnny Feelgood” kicked things off, but Phair really started to hit her stride when she broke into “F*ck and Run” early in the performance. The delicious pop sounds of “Extraordinary” and “Why Can’t I” were saved for the sweet spot later in the setlist, but when it came time to call it a night, she returned to “Guyville” with “Divorce Song.” Part confession, part confrontation, the track is a powerful response to post-relationship anxiety.

During the show, Phair joked that she felt like she was presenting a TED Talk on songwriting 101, the first lesson being the importance of a bad breakup. As the coolest woman in the music business commanded the stage like she was “6’1,” it seems hard to imagine that she ever found herself on the losing end of love, her heartbreak transformed into a breathable armor letting emotions flow freely while still serving as protection from the cold, cruel world.

Though Phair became an instant rock goddess following the success of Guyville, her subsequent albums further showcased her defiant resistance to being constrained to a certain idea or genre. Her  “Whitechocolatespaceegg” deep cut, “Shitloads of Money,” – on which she sings, “It’s nice to be liked/But it’s better by far to get paid” – was before its time, as it would serve as the perfect anthem to the ongoing pay equality debate.

Funstyle” proved to be the perfect title for Phair’s most recent effort, the entire album showcasing the pure pleasure that can be found from musical experimentation. Still soulful and earnest on tracks like “You Should Know Me” and “Miss September,” Phair goes on to stretch her creative muscles on the rap-meets-spoken-word-meets-Indian-pop-banger
Bollywood,” and dabble in feisty funk on “My My.” Whether you love Phair as a pop princess, as the deadpan darling or for her ability to save your soul in song, turn up her music as loud as you can, and the world will feel a little less lonely and a lot more fun.

Phair will continue to tour with the Smashing Pumpkins throughout the end of the month and, if you ask me, she should return to Chicago as soon as possible. Riot Fest, anyone? Take a look at a gallery of photos from Phair’s April 14 performance in Chicago above and click here to keep up with her on Twitter.

Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and...

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