As I walked into the iconic venue that is Empty Bottle, I couldn’t help but marvel at the show I was about to attend. One of the most interesting and endearing newer artist Soccer Mommy was opening for a revered icon, Liz Phair. I was overwhelmed to see a new favorite and one that has persevered in my mind since childhood. I snapped a picture of the chalk door listing their names just as Alton Brown paced to the back line, feeling all too lucky to see what would be a spectacular show.
While waiting for Soccer Mommy, the musical project of Sophie Allison, I overheard a fair share of people wondering how she would sound. It’s pretty obvious that when Liz Phair is playing a venue 1/100 of what she typically does, she will be the person most people are here for. Rest assured, I told as many people as I could they were in for a treat and thankfully Allison delivered with a fantastic solo set.
Soccer Mommy came to the stage alone and was practically welcomed with opened arms. Allison’ performance was somewhat understated, but revealed more than it let on. It put her songwriting and personality on full display. It’ incredibly difficult not to be impressed with songs like “Skinned Knees” and “Grown”, odes to young love and growing up. Allsion’s songs are shockingly dense, saying way more in a single verse than most songs can muster in their entirety. This fact was not lost on the crowd as they responded quite well to Soccer Mommy’s bedroom pop tunes.
In the middle of her set she let the crowd know that a cover was coming up. As soon as she revealed it was a Bruce Springsteen songs, the crowd cheered. She laughed and was happy for the approval, something that not every crowd responded with. “I’m on Fire” fit her cadence wonderfully, finding itself pretty early on and dazzling the crowd with it’s tender edition. She ended her set with “Flaw ” and “Cool”, two songs of her latest album Clean. “Flaw” centers into some darker elements of Allison’s songwriting while “Cool” masks them with undeniable sardonic tone as she belts out “I wanna be that cool” about heartbreaker girls. There’s no Doubt in my mind that Sophie Allison left the stage with a fair amount of new fans after this performance.
When Liz Phair came to the stage, the crowd understandably erupted. There was something otherworldly about see Phair on the small stage at the bar of a bar and she knew it. Opening the set with the reimagined Johnny Cash cover of “Walk the Line”, turning it into “Fuck or Die”, the aggressively sexual track that barged through the crowd. It wasn’t the typical starting song that you would think would start off a set, but it did so quite successfully.
The set list stuck to the tracks off of the recently released Girly-Sound To Guyville: The 25th Anniversary Boxset, playing the songs you know and love as well as some deep cuts that otherwise wouldn’t be played lived. I’m sure it felt a little self-indulgent to some (audibly so from a couple standing next to me), but for me this everything I could have hoped for. Phair didn’t play with a full band, rather just fellow guitarist Connor Sullivan by her side, giving the set the same understated but grand feeling that Soccer Mommy delivered earlier in the night.
Between songs she related her move from Chicago to LA as a breakup and shifts from one relationship to another. It gave her songs, already personal and enthralling, more context that was immediately appreciated. Cheers for Chicago and boos for LA echoed before songs like “Go West” or “Ant in Alaska”, the crowd playing as much of a role as they could. They yelling out songs for her to play, of which “Johnny Feelgood” was actually added to the set, and egged her on to tell a story she teased about a harrowing boat rescue that she initiated from her living room window while pretty high.
Highlights from her set included the ode to her son “Whip Smart” the b-side that most everyone knew and loved “Ant in Alaska”, and the always welcome “Never Said”. Throughout her time on stage she looked comfortable and at ease, even when she messed up a song or two. It truly felt like an intimate performance with all the sincerity you would expect from it, not some rockstar slumming it her old hometown venue.
Were there songs I wished she would have played? Sure, but what we got was a true display of Phair’s early work. Part time capsule, part hits brigade, the show gave the fans the truest look at Phair and one that felt immediately satisfying. She closed out her Girly Sound to Guyville tour in the town with “Divorce Song” and a few moments of signing audience members’ records, giving the town were her career first started an excellent show.