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Phair's acoustic show veers from sharp to shallow

With her alt-rock goddess years a distant shimmer, a slick pop experiment tucked safely back in 2003, and a new album rolling out in October, Liz Phair is going where so many muddled mid-life rock 'n' roll souls have found themselves: on an acoustic tour.

She opened her three-week string of shows last night for a sold-out crowd at the Paradise. They arrived infatuated and left even more in love. There is something wildly appealing about Liz Phair, a plain-spoken, unapologetic attitude toward everything from her choice in music to her choice in men that managed to glue this set together.

And that was no easy task. It's hard to remember a set that toggled so vividly between brilliant and insipid. Backed by a guitarist and harmony singer who seemed to be working out vocal parts on the fly, Phair reached deep into the endlessly clever, frank collection of gems from her 1993 debut ''Exile in Guyville," offering stripped renditions of ''6'1," ''Soap Star Joe," ''Mesmerizing," ''Divorce Song," and ''Girls Girls Girls." She brazenly plopped them toe-to-toe with the factory-assembled confections from her recent self-titled album, a major play for Top 40 chart action. The pop project -- which seemed like a weirdly righteous and unabashed move at the time -- suffered for the close proximity.

''Extraordinary" wasn't. ''Why Can't I," a fine radio anthem, just sounded silly on the heels of ''Supernova." When Phair, barefoot and blond-locked, struck a vixen pose while attacking the inane chorus of ''Rock Me," it was painful to watch. Listening wasn't much easier, as Phair bullied her voice into high, hook-drenched neighborhoods where she has no artistic business.

Still, her sense of entitlement was contagious. The four new songs Phair previewed -- especially the title track, ''Somebody's Miracle" -- were in a classic, folk-rock mold that suited her off-kilter voice and contemplative time of life.

Joan Anderman can be reached at

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