In new move, bands play complete albums in concert
As CD sales plummet, novelty gigs win box office bump and delight audiences.
After two decades behind the mic, Liz Phair has earned a reputation as a fiercely intimate, occasionally skittish rock musician, capable of making the biggest ballroom shows feel like cozy coffee-shop gigs. But this year, when a publicist suggested Phair perform – in its entirety – her most personal album, "Exile in Guyville," the singer felt an unfamiliar pang in her gut.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's a strange thing to be daunted by your own record," Phair says of the 1993 release "Guyville," which has attained a cult status among critics and fans. "Maybe seven of those songs I never played live. Some of them were too quiet; I didn't think I could carry them." She'd also have to dredge up a working knowledge of the album's intricate fretwork and hushed vocal arrangements. "I'd be going back in time," she remembers, less than wistfully.
Still, on June 25, Phair walked on stage at the Hiro Ballroom in lower Manhattan, and belted through the furious, strained poetry of "Guyville," while a head-over-heels crowd looked on. "We were all on the same journey," Phair says. "I knew what everyone was there for. They just wanted to remember the part of their life that this record was the soundtrack for. I knew because that's how I feel every night I play it."
The formula – performing a revered album sequentially in a concert setting – has gained a certain amount of ballast in the past few months, even as CD sales continue to plummet nationwide. Indie stalwarts Sonic Youth recently performed their breakthrough smash "Daydream Nation" here, and hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy played the politically charged "It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back" at the annual Pitchfork Festival in downtown Chicago. This weekend, at a upstate New York gathering called All Tomorrow's Parties, rock outfits from the Meat Puppets to Built to Spill will play their best-known material; they will be joined by Thurston Moore, frontman of Sonic Youth, who is slated to perform a solo recording called "Psychic Hearts."
And speculation is high that the Smashing Pumpkins, a band that peaked in popularity 10 years ago, has made plans to tour behind "Gish," first released here in 1991.