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In new move, bands play complete albums in concert

As CD sales plummet, novelty gigs win box office bump and delight audiences.

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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.

"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."

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