Liz Rocks Out at the Crowbar

(Photo originally posted by Ken Lee)

Liz Phair at The Crowbar
May 5, 1999
(Cinco de Mayo)

Picture of entrance to the Crowbar

Set List

"Does anyone know what day it is?" she shouted to the crowd. The instantaneous, deafening reply from some 200 fans packed against the stage: "Cinco de Mayo!" Such was the energy and responsiveness of Liz Phair's audience the evening of May 5th, 1999, at the Crowbar in State College, PA. Liz chose the appropriate Cinco de Mayo as the third or fourth song in her 1 1/2 hour set. I made no effort to remember the order in which she played her songs, but they included, after Chopsticks (her opening number), 6'1" ("After all these years, I still haven't grown any taller," she remarked), Dance of the Seven Veils, Never Said, Mesmerizing, Fuck and Run, Divorce Song, Flower, Supernova, Jealousy, May Queen, White Chocolate Space Egg, Big Tall Man, Perfect World, Johnny Feelgood, Polyester Bride, Uncle Alvarez, and Go on Ahead. She also did two new songs. The first was called Firewalker; I didn't catch the name of the second, but when she described it as "a real rocker" she understated the most ferociously head-banging songs I've heard in years.

Crowbar as a Venue

By 9:45 P.M. on May 5, 1999, my wife Carolyn and I finished reading to and putting to bed our two youngest sons. Full of curiosity, we headed downtown to hear Liz Phair at the Crowbar. We'd visited this techno-industrial style bar only once before about six or seven  years ago, but there was no live performer that evening. After last night's performance, I've decided that this is the only way I want to see rock n' roll in the future (if there is a future for me--my wife says I'm getting way too old for this). The last concert review I wrote was for Alanis Morissette playing at Penn State's 6,000-seat Rec Hall back in December of 1995. Rec Hall is about as intimate as you can get for a large concert, because the audience on the floor can press up against the stage. But the last concert Carolyn and I attended in State College (Steve Miller Band) was at the new, cavernous Bryce Jordan Center, where you can barely see the stage from most of the seats and where security guards make sure that no one on the floor gets up out of his or her seat to dance. Unless the Rolling Stones come to town, I'm never attending another concert at the Jordan Center, especially after the deliciously up-close and personal experience at the Crowbar. It may have been smoky and too loud, and we stood for the entire show, packed like sardines, but I was ten feet from the band and could see every expression on Liz Phair's face. This is the way rock n' roll is supposed to be experienced.

Liz's Demeanor

Much has been made of Liz Phair's vulnerability to stage fright. I would guess that most of the audience did not notice any nervousness, but I did. After Chopsticks she addressed the audience almost apologetically, "This is our last song--er stop on the tour, and so we're all a little tweaked." During some songs she flashed self-conscious smiles and occasionally laughed nervously, even to the point of almost breaking up a couple of times. She didn't say too much to the audience between numbers, generally moving quickly from the end of one number to the beginning of the next. Once she asked, "How many days do you guys have left in your semester?" and had trouble understanding the answer everyone shouted back, "Two days!" She switched guitars a lot and looked a little flustered every time she did this. For me, this made her all the more endearing, because I have similar feelings of self-consciousness when I talk or perform in front of a group. Whatever nervousness she may have suffered took nothing away from from the show; her confidence in her excellent material made for a strong, powerful performance all evening.

One of the most poignant moments for me was after the band came back for an encore and Liz said, "And now for something totally different," launching into Perfect World with minimalist accompaniment from her lead guitar player. She seemed so sad about not having what she mentions in the song, sad to the point of tearfulness and choking up. (But maybe her throat was getting dry. She drank a lot of water that evening.)
Liz Drinking from One of Her Coveted Water Bottles
(Photo originally posted by Ken Lee)
Still, what is so amazing for me is the way she can move back and forth between raunchy rocking and total tenderness. She's so versatile, so creative, showing a a whole spectrum of moods--anger, pensivenss, sadness, lust, goofiness, hurt, joy--throughout her set.

Odds and Ends

Here are some assorted comments about stuff that happened that night. Near the end of the show after switching guitars, Liz pointed to the guitar they were taking off stage and said, "See that yellow guitar? That's the guitar I've been using ever since I was a college student in New York. I've written every single song you've ever heard on that guitar. But now I think it's dying. I hope, please, that someone can revive that guitar."

During Flower, four guys came up on stage. I think they might have been from the David Mead warm-up act that we missed. As she sang what she would like to do to them, one by one they took their shirts off. Each had one word written on his chest, so, lined up, their chests read: Liz Fucked Us All. She was laughing so much through this song that she was barely able to get through it.

Apparently, some of the young women in the audience needed to see Liz really badly. One who was about Liz's height literally shoved me and others aside so she could get closer to the stage. I thought that was so cute.

I'm no guitar expert, so I can't report on tabs, special tunings, fingerings, or the like. But I did want to mention how, on a couple of numbers, the band got some incredible, spacey synth sounds out of their guitars. These effects made these numbers sound quite a bit different from the album versions. Also, in general, rocking numbers like Supernova had a raw (but tight) sound rather than the smooth, polished sound found on the albums.

Right before the second or third-to-the-last number, Liz apparently had a spontaneous urge to make some changes in the set list and in the way they were going to do the next song. She gathered the band around her and told them that they were going to do two rather than three choruses. They all looked questioningly at her, and she told them, "You know, right after the floating part ... ." They continued to look doubtful, and she laughed and addressed the audience, "Isn't this something, changing things around right on the spot?" I can't remember what the song was now, but it went fine.

Carolyn pointed out to me that the background vocalist looked a lot like Boy George. And she did (but she was prettier). She had glitter outlining her face. Carolyn also noticed that she didn't do much except sing the harmonies, which was also true until the end of the show when two guys (either from the crew or warmup band, I'm not sure) jumped on stage to dance with her and playfully harrass her. Liz said that, traditionally, on the last stop on a tour, members of the crew play tricks on the band like making weird noises through their headsets, and also the bands who are touring together mess with each other.

At one point, Liz demanded that one of the engineers get on stage. After some cajoling, he did, and did a great Jim Morrison with "Break on Through." The audience just loved this. We howled and howled as Liz laughed and danced all over the stage to this old Doors tune.
Liz Dancing
(Photo originally posted by Ken Lee)