Intersexion – Liz Licks GR

I can see a new expression on my faceLiz Phair, Wheat, Rachael Yamagata at the Intersection

Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 15, 2004

Grand Rapids has an odd relationship with rock and roll. Located in central western Michigan, the city is a haven for Reformed Christianity, and the social conservatism that comes with it. In a broad sense, it’s lite rock lilt and the long arm of the Lord that keep GR’s toes a-tappin’. But just like a new kid with a hair lip, this blond and bland environment was just asking to be fucked with. Legendary haunts like The Reptile House took up the gauntlet; it rocked bondage nights and The Melvins before The Man finally drove it out. The Intersection did its part too, for years helping to anchor a shabby corner jumble of drunk haunts and hot dog joints, but those days died with the opening of a shiny new downtown Intersection, cleansed to resemble a Calvinist teen’s vision of the ultimate Christian rock clubhouse. What would Liz do?

At least the Intersection reopened, sans damn dirty hippy scum but still booking national acts for a city starving for some danger. Its new incarnation was large, clean, and one piece of flair away from a Bennigan’s, but its sight lines nice and its monitors huge. And to their credit, Grand Rapids’ cornfed faithful were out in force for Monday night’s Liz Phair gig. They shifted their feet unenthusiastically for opener Rachael Yamagata, who started at the decidedly ungodly time of 7pm, causing the GloNo posse to miss most of her shimmering dusk folk set. The last halting chords faded away as two squat Ram Man look-alikes discussed NASCAR power rankings behind us.

Trains of Rubenesque Dutch girls threaded their way to the front as the night’s second act began – it was the T-shirts that lulled them. Wheat, a friendly Boston-based quintet decked out in colorful pattern’d separates, did their goddamn best to get a rise out of the growing audience. Problem was, their updated Gin Blossoms bop was less adventurous than Grand Rapids on a Sunday morning. You’d think the types in attendance would eat bland up, given their city’s tendency towards polite homogeny. And yet, as Wheat finished another title song submission to some imaginary PG romantic comedy, the congregation just kept getting rowdier. Was this a Liz Phair show or a worship starring Avalon?

The Intersection’s elaborate lighting system went to house, and a swarm of major label tour support thugs dismantled Wheat’s fabulously underused vintage equipment. A waitress wandered in from the real Cancun, proffering Jager bombs like stolen stereo equipment. Suddenly figures bounded through laughable clouds of stage smoke, and the near sell-out audience erupted like people who cheer for the sound guy. It turned out they were right however, as the shapes took positions behind instruments pushed severely to the stage’s four corners. All that was missing was a Mick Jagger ramp for Liz’s big entrance; she took shape in front of the lights as petite and heavily made-up, singing “Rock Me” through a remote Rhythm Nation mic. And the crowd went as wild as they did Dutch. It was like soup bar day at Russ’.

Freed of a mic stand and given room to roam, Phair took to a brand new dance. Like an animated version of her recent cover shot, the Fender Jaguar became an electric sex toy as she borrowed Britney’s dance moves, fingering its fingerboard and letting her tips dance over its head. “Why Can’t I?” she sang, smiling. “Oh baby know what you’re like?” with a timed toss of her mane. “You’re like my favorite underwear.” Beside us, a gang of cleancuts whooped like sailors. In front, an overweight couple in their forties swayed gently to and fro, watching Liz with rapt attention. “We haven’t fucked yet but my head’s spinning…” What was going on here? It was like bringing a happy and bustling church van to the Onyx Hotel.

After the preaching and the grandstanding and the bible studies were through, Grand Rapids seemed to want a different kind of wristband. Tearing happily through a strong midsection that included “Never Said,” “Extraordinary,” and a triumphant “Love/Hate,” Liz made it a war with a city’s whole wide world of WWJD and slacks on Sunday. Drugs, hunger, race, sex, government – in conservative Grand Rapids, nothing’s ever really going to change. But at least for one night, it let the rock and roll win.

Liz could’ve peed on the bible and gotten the key to the city.


Previous GLONO articles on Ms. Phair: That’s Not Phair! by Johnny Loftus, Exile in Hitsville: xxoo Liz Phair by Jake Brown.

23 thoughts on “Intersexion – Liz Licks GR”

  1. The dislike for GR seems to be spilling out all over the place. Is there nothing redeeming at all about this place? Must be something here, otherwise GR wouldn’t be the second largest city in Michigan (and growing).

  2. “It was like soup bar day at Russ’. ”

    Beautiful, JL!

    And R&R Oldie; you do live here in GR, right? C’mon, we don’t call it Bland Rapids for nothing. Scrape that Dale Earnhardt memorial off your truck and slap on a ‘Whitey Will Pay’ sticker instead. The revolution starts now!

  3. Yep, I do live in GR. Like it, too! Bland at times, sure. But I have lived in other locations through my life, both in the U.S. and out, and it ain’t so bad here. By the way, the stereotyping, while funny, isn’t even close. Just my 2 cents worth of comment for the day; nothing else meant.

  4. No – nothing redeeming. At least, the cultural conservatism of the area is proportional to the amount of copy given to it above. It’s really fucking crazy and I’m glad to be away from it. Good piece, Johnny.

  5. I grew up in GR and have no bad feelings about it. Sure, the CRC gets a bit nutty at times and the number of Jesus fish bumper stickers far outnumber the Darwins, but who cares? I had a fine time growing up there.

    Now, what about Liz…

  6. Good point, DP – I’ve never really gotten into her stuff, but as an observer, it certainly seems that Liz has lost pretty much all of her cred with this release. I mean everything I read about it seems to indicate that she’s now trying some kind of fucked up pop star crossover maneuver. Sounds like her live show carries more evidence of same.

  7. from what i read, it seems that the only evidence of cross-over was from the make-up of the crowd.

    now, i’ve never seen liz in concert and i haven’t even made the effort to pick up her new album. she’s carrying the albatross of critics and older fans calling her a sell-out and it’s pushed me away from her. plus, her pop princes posturing (by being an advertising pin-up girl for calvin klein, gap, and chicago’s own p45) during down time doesn’t hurt. not to mention, there’s just so much more engaging music out there.

    all said, it’s nice to hear she pulled out some of her old songs, that people in gr showed up and enjoyed it, and that i can look forward to seeing her aging, but damn cute visage for a few more seasons sprawled out in an ad in several magazines.

    as for gr… always liked the place when i passed through. is it a little on the small town conservative side? sure. then again, it’s really about the people you hang out with then the make-up of the town around you. hell, chicago feels a little small every now and again.

  8. Can’t those things said about GR be said about any city in the midwest? I think Chicago is overall a pretty tame and conservative place, but there are still plenty of things I love about it.

  9. Grand Rapids is fucking downright creepy at times. Sad but true! I lived there for three years and the mindset that dominates the town is so far out of touch with the America that I live in.

    Sure, it’s a nice place to raise a family if you want your family to be raised in an extremely homogenized, christian environment that offers all the amenities that are agreed upon after Sunday’s mass.

    Let’s not forget that Liz Phair played Calvin College (I think…) in the late 90’s. Of course she has fans, the Vander-somethings and the VanKampenasses have now graduated and have extra loot to drop on the “New Intersection” because of the stellar jobs that they have with Amway.

    Liz makes them feel dangerous and I bet that the merch booth was going off at that show.

  10. Well the show was not good at all. He failed to mention how much the sound sucked. Worst sound I have heard at a live event ever.

    Wasn’t there a big stink last time Liz played at Calvin. I heard she was banned from playing there.Or, maybe “she would not be invited back” would be the correct statement. Well, the Calvin show was 130% better than this intersection show.

    I lived in GR for 3 years, just plotting my I miss the place. The jesus billboards, the plastic smiles.There is life outside of CRC there.

  11. This article was descriptive and exciting as all of Johnny’s are, but all the negativity in this one left a bad taste in my mouth.

  12. I guess I want to know more about how Liz performed. Is she totally over her stage fright? Is her voice strong live? Is her Brittany imitation half-hearted or ironic at all? And Johnny, what did she wear?

    What’s Russ’s? What’s the Onyx Hotel?

    I love the last line.

  13. First of all, as far as the BS about the Reptile House; that, my friend, went under due to one of the co-owners blowing all the profits up his nose (very bad management, not “the man”) and as for the Intersection that was weened out of Eastown because of a greedy owner (anyone who went there shortly before it moved downtown would know by the drink prices not to mention the numerous friends of mine that worked there and didn’t get paid). I know for a fact that the space difference at the old Intersection was always the problem for a full band to perform and to sustain a full crowd worthy of those bands. Furthermore, do you honestly think that all those little shithole places in Chicago started out as shitholes? C’mon that’s just ridiculously one-sided. If you were from GR I would wager that you probably had a sheltered life.(CRC upbringing?)

  14. Liz played the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver a few weeks ago, and I went partly out of pity, partly out of curiousity. You see, I’ve been listening to the Girly Sound demos recently and lamenting her corporate makeover and subsequent downward spiral. I thought her new songs were weak, but the pre 2003 material still shines.

    I have a question about the pic posted in this article. What’s with the BIG hair? Oh well, “when in Rome…” I guess. Yikes!

  15. Dreamin’, the photo is from a recent episode of “American Dreams” in which Phair briefly appeared as Jackie DeShannon. A great show, by the way, EXCEPT for the cheesy gimmick of dressing up current singers as 60s Bandstand guests. Nick Lachey (pronounced “lackey”) was the WORST in his neutered version of Tom Jones! Mr. Jessica Simpson’s voice wasn’t even in the same pasture as the gyrating sheep shagger. But since those segments last on average about 20 seconds, they special guests’ appearances don’t detract too much from an otherwise smart, well-written, complex and thoughtful show.

  16. Thx Jake. I thought the ‘do was an ironic tribute to GR or something. Now THAT would have redeemed Liz forever in my eyes.

  17. I still love Liz (although it may not seem like it from my comments above). Maybe it’s just a “midlife crisis”, or something.

    A record as great as Exile in Guyville cuts you all sorts of slack in my book.

  18. whoa, easy on the GR digs. as someone who’s grown up in the area, and has spent 6 years in philly & new york, grand rapids is doing a fine job as a city in growth. i miss the music scene in the bigger cities but GR is slowly but surely coming along. going to ‘death cab’ monday @ calvin… interesting.

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