Named after one of her early bootleg demos that kicked off her music career, Liz Phair’s “Don’t Holdyrbreath” program at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday was the pinnacle of L.A. Phil’s month-long Gen X Festival and the trailblazing indie-rocker’s first live show since the pandemic.
Slated as a celebration of the “lamest hits” of the neglected latchkey generation sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials (born roughly between 1965 and 1980), as well as Phair’s boundary-breaking career of blunt honesty about coming of age as a female in post-postwar America with a uniquely bare indie-rock twist, the night was anything but inane.
It did lean heavily toward the latter part of Gen X music pop culture of the ’90s, and the audience spanning from their 40s to early 60s didn’t seem to mind at all, even with a couple of the openers actually born during that time giving their best interpretations of enduring hits from their birth decade. Opening the show were Vagabon singing a sweetly wispy version of The Cranberries’ “Linger,” Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast belting Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” Lisa Loeb rocking both her ’90s hit “Stay (Missed You)” as well as Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” and Remi Wolf absolutely killing Beck’s “Loser.” Their stellar backing band were L.A. stalwarts Brian Whelan and Ben Jaffe on guitars and backing vocals, Erik Kertes on bass and Luke Adams on drums.
After a brief, giddy intermission, Phair and her band brought the heat. “We’re takin it all back to the ’90s, except I’m not high,” she said, launching into the rocket-powered “Super Nova” from her 1994 sophomore album “Whipsmart.” The set wound through the darkly desirous “Johnny Feelgood” from 1998’s “Whitechocolatespaceegg” and the brighter “Hey Lou” from last year’s comeback album, “Soberish,” before diving into “6’1″” off her groundbreaking debut from 1993, “Exile in Guyville.”
Masked (per Disney Hall policy) hoots turned into heavy headbobbing in the audience as Phair traversed through smartly cynical album cuts and singles from throughout her catalogue, leaning heavy into “Exile.” After an energetic bounce around the stage for “Lazy Dreamer” (off 2005’s “Somebody’s Miracle”) the indie-rocker asked, “Is this anybody else’s first concert back? Just me?” before remarking, “That’s perfectly fine. Let’s get spooky,” and sailed into “Mesmerizing.” Dedicating the next song to an unnamed close friend who was in the audience, Phair played her catchy recent single deftly handling the struggle of facing divorce, “Spanish Doors,” for the first time live.
When the set came around to her debut hit, “Never Said,” the audience finally got up to dance, and Phair herself exclaimed, “That was awesome!” The barn doors pretty much fell off when she and the band later opened the encore with “Exile’s” underground hit, “Fuck and Run.” The audience was up cheering, singing along and dancing for the rest of the set, which included her 2005 eponymous album’s single “Why Can’t I?” and a triumphant cover of the Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” with Lisa Loeb joining as well as a “poignantly orchestrated” organ player. Poignant indeed, considering it’s also the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” which Phair has cited as an inspiration for her debut full-length. Tip of the cap to Generation X and all their heroes.
Liz Phair setlist: Supernova, Johnny Feelgood, Hey Lou, 6’1,” Help Me Mary, Polyester Bride, Lazy Dreamer, Mesmerizing, Spanish Doors, Stratford-on-Guy, Extraordinary, Never Said, Divorce Song. Encore: Fuck and Run, Why Can’t I?, Bitter Sweet Symphony