“I Think I’m Unwell”: Liza Anne’s Riotous Portland Therapy Session
In their opening set for Alex Lahey, Liza Anne turned the Polaris Hall into a space for transparency, vulnerability and intimate conversation with the Portland crowd. Words by Bren Swogger and photos by Emma Davis. See the full photo gallery here.
One thing I’ve always admired about Liza Anne is their unparalleled vulnerability. Back in 2018, upon hearing their record Fine, But Dying for the first time, the thing that stood out most to me was how unafraid they were to speak the truth of their struggles with mental health.
It’s an oft taboo subject–why will always be a mystery to me. But it was refreshing and moving to hear an artist speak so frankly of their battles with their everyday inner demons. Not of lost love and majorly tragic emotions, but of the smaller battles–the daily panic attacks, being forced to make small talk with strangers. The feeling of being fine, but dying.
Five years later, I finally found myself in a room, about to witness Liza Anne live for the first time. I’d never been to Polaris Hall before, but the tiny upstairs venue seemed a fitting, intimate space for an intimate songwriter.
Light still pouring through the windows, Liza Anne took the stage to Hillary Duff’s “So Yesterday”, a fitting choice to welcome someone who proudly sports a “Why Not” tattoo on their right arm.
“Can you turn up this song while I tune my guitar?” Liza Anne asked into the mic. Amongst quiet tuning and banter, after the first chorus of Duff’s song, the music was quickly interrupted by the absolute shredding of guitar, Liza Anne already unleashing a heavy dose of Riot Grrrl energy into the room from one strum.
Opening with the frenetic energy of “This Chaos, That Feeling” from their 2020 release Bad Vacation, Liza Anne really came out swinging, true riotous rock energy emanating from the duo on stage: Anne on guitar accompanied by their drummer Allie.
For the first few songs, this textured, angry and energetic presence was what seemed to be Liza Anne’s on-stage niche. Their guitar skills, pop-tinged but rock-forward vocals, aided in a performance that pulled the small crowd in. Then of course, in fitting fashion, Liza Anne got intimate.
“This next song is about my therapist,” they said, introducing the standout Bad Vacation track “I Shouldn’t Ghost My Therapist”. Just as on the whole of Fine, But Dying, Liza Anne’s strength always stands in their vulnerability.
“This song is about when you step into your parents house when you’re 28 and all the sudden you’re 13 and have never taken an antidepressant in your life,” was their introduction to the all-too-relatable “Bummer Days”, while title-track “Bad Vacation” was introduced as “about when you get out of a situation where you can’t be yourself and then you’re like… well that was wild.” In hindsight, this one felt like a bit of foreshadowing.
It wasn’t until seven tracks in–and after an extremely beautiful and vulnerable moment with drummer Allie playing one of their own tracks acoustic–that Liza Anne finally admitted to the crowd: “I think I’m unwell”.
Opening up to the room, Liza Anne offered us a little glimpse behind the curtain of their own mind and life. Three years ago, they said, they got sober. Getting sober is a lot of work, and requires a lot of mental and emotional work. Through the process of self-discovery that came with it, Liza Anne came to a realization 28 years in the making: they’re gay. This, they said, was their first tour out.
“This is really amazing,” Anne said. “It feels like my chest is widening. It’s so amazing to be vulnerable. Thank you for holding this space for me, Portland.”
One thing that Liza said that struck a note with me was that, through looking back on their previous music, they realized they’d been leaving breadcrumbs for themselves, a trail that in hindsight clearly pointed in the direction of their newly realized truth. Following up this moment with “Desire”, then, seemed a perfect fit, as Liza sang:
“I’m only living when the sun goes down / I think I just need a minute / Give me some space to figure it out.”
Liza Anne’s strength wasn’t just in their vulnerability. In fact, through the years, there were some things they weren’t even vulnerable about with themselves. Liza Anne’s strength, then, was in how much truth was in what they sang. The breadcrumbs we leave ourselves. The truth within fighting to get out, and the battles we wage with ourselves in order to feel okay.
It’s vulnerable, it’s tough, but at the end of the road, when the battle’s won, it feels like freedom.
On their closing song, that freedom was palpable. Singing their latest single, “Cheerleader”, Liza Anne seemed freer. Self-described as “about having a big, gay crush”, “Cheerleader” marks a turning point in Liza Anne’s discography. Instead of breadcrumbs, Liza gives themself the full loaf, and they serve it with sparkle, passion, energy, and love. It’s a certified banger, and an amazing display of where Liza Anne is now in life.
They might be unwell, but they’re going to be just fine.