Part of Liz Phair's charm when she came onto the indie rock scene in the early 1990s was that she couldn't sing on key and suffered from stage fright. At the 9:30 Club on Friday, she showed she's long past the stage fright, anyway. And she's still a charmer.
There was no obvious pitch-correction technology being used or lip-syncing taking place during Phair's set; if any tape was used, it was the sort that would prevent Phair's hussified outfit (skimpy skirt and blouse, studded belt, choker necklace, leggings and high heels) from malfunctioning. But from her opening tune, the poptastic rocker "Supernova," through several rough cuts from her iconic 1993 debut "Exile in Guyville," to material from her latest release, "Funstyle," it was about the songs and attitude.
From its age, the crowd seemed loaded with folks who've been with her from the start. But Phair, strumming barre chords on various low-end Fender electrics, turned her backing rocker trio most loose when rendering the new "Oh, Bangladesh." Phair, 43, wasn't afraid to dust off "Why Can't I?" and "Extraordinary," tunes with massive radio-friendly choruses from her 2003 eponymously titled record. That's the project for which she retained the Avril Lavigne/Britney Spears smash-writing team (the Matrix) and thereby lost all her indie cred and a portion of her following of cool kids for the crime of selling out. Whoever wrote 'em, they're both fun songs, and from the crowd's kudos after each, it appears that all is forgiven.
To balance things out, Phair also performed the most radio-unfriendly tunes from her songbook. For "Flower," a "Guyville" cut with a giggly supply of bad words and graphic sex references, Phair brought two female members of the crowd onstage to help her croon vulgarities. The newcomers couldn't hold a tune either, but by song's end they were warbling along with their hero so shamelessly they might as well have all been in the shower, and everybody in the building was smiling.