Underage at the Empty Bottle

I showed up, nineteen years old, fake ID in hand, with nothing to lose but the exorbitant amount of money I spent on my Liz Phair ticket. She was playing at the Empty Bottle, a 21+ venue in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. I flashed my “Seattle driver’s license” and tried not to look too nervous.

It’s been 25 years since Liz Phair released Exile in Guyville (1993), her critically acclaimed debut rock album. In honor of this anniversary, she embarked on a national tour, playing intimate shows that featured not only songs from Guyville but also her early lo-fi cassette Girly Sound (1991). I was poised for a special show. I went alone. Partly because none of my friends care about Liz Phair in the way that I do, and partly because I thought it would be a meaningful experience…somehow.

My admiration for Liz Phair stems from my high school theatre teacher who put “Polyester Bride” on a mixtape he made for our fall play. I’m a sucker for nineties indie rock, especially female artists, like Liz, who took a hatchet to the patriarchy on their way to the top.

Guyville is a clever, incisive response to the guy-dominated world of rock and roll. Liz helped initiate a fight that young artists still carry on today, one that demands recognition of the validity of the female perspective. On “Fuck and Run,” she oscillates between the girlish yearning of “I want a boyfriend” and the bitter knowingness of “you said that I should call you up but I knew much better than that.” I was hooked by her contradictions and cool-kid nonchalance.

My fake is either better than I thought, or the bouncer just let it slide out of empathy. Either way, I made my euphoric entrance into the Empty Bottle. I ordered a beer (!) and giddily wedged myself in a crowd of aging indie kids. “This is what being a grownup is,” I thought, and I loved it. I watched the show with laser focus and a constantly bobbing head.

Between songs, Phair recounted a memory from her early days as a rising teenage rock star from the northern suburbs of Chicago. “Does anyone remember a bar called Shoes?” She asked, and a handful of people cheered. “My friend Henry took me there, and I was freaking out because I was underage, but he assured me everything would be fine. When we got there, I thought ‘This must be the coolest place ever!’” she said, poking fun at her own teenage enthusiasm.

And, as I stood there, alone in a crowd, being sung to about youth, love, and independence, I contemplated my own fleeting adolescence. This would be my last first time going to a concert by myself, my last first time getting into a bar, and my last first time seeing Liz Phair. Lately, my time as a teenager has seemed to be flashing away right before my eyes. It’s hard to take it all as it comes. I hope I’ll meet not only the firsts, but the seconds, thirds, fourths, and fortieths with the same wide-eyed hope and enthusiasm. I hope I’ll remember what it felt like to be nineteen, alone at a Liz Phair show.

As she closed her set, and I threw away my empty can, I couldn’t help but think, “this must be the coolest place ever!” – JR Atkinson


JR Atkinson is an incoming sophomore at Wesleyan University, from Chicago, IL. She is planning on majoring in English and Film.