Live Last Night: Lucinda Williams


On "Come On," a primal howl of a parting shot, alt-country dowager Lucinda Williams dresses down a soon-to-be-ex-lover who never even made her -- well, the fellow was simply unsatisfactory, poor old sport.

So often in these matters, the culprit is timing. And based on how she sequenced her intermittently sublime 22-song cry-in at the 9:30 club last night, Williams's sense of timing is unconventional.

Who opens a gig at an all-standing club with nearly an hour of slow, sad ballads? Answer: Well, duh.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Williams, the grand dame of Southern Gothic songstresses, can't even write a tune about a beautiful little city by the sea ("Ventura") without making you worry she's going to wander off into it: "I want to be swallowed up by an ocean of love."

Nobody expects her to cover AC/DC or anything, but a bit more variation in the tempo of her haunting, individually gorgeous odes to miserableness might have pushed the show's needle from "quite good" to "one for the books."

Williams cheered up on last year's "Little Honey" album, but it couldn't last. Fortunately, nobody does dejected grandeur like she does. Disappointment and resignation are the emotional states her haggard, road-weary voice was made to travel.

She's a tentative-at-best stage presence, glancing down at a lyric book every few seconds and thanking the crowd through gritted teeth after each number. But no matter: Her amber pipes were in perfectly imperfect form last night, and the somber tone of the set's first half made her instrument's resilience stand out even more.

It also let her band, the four-piece Buick 6, show its chops. They'd opened the show with a hot instrumental set of Zeppelin and Prince and surf-guitar standards before changing into better clothes to play with the headliner.

By the time Williams began gradually to up the pace with "Tears of Joy" (yep, even her upbeat songs require hankies), she looked relieved. Well, actually she looked like Ron Wood, with her black dye-job and eyeliner and studded belt and skull-and-crossbones pendant. But her late-blooming cheerfulness sure was catching, and the hard-charging sequence of "Honey Bee," "Joy" and "Righteously" to close the set proper came on like sunshine piercing the gloom.

Encores? She's got your encores: A solo-acoustic reimagining of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" and the best of Williams' new songs, "Little Rock Star" ("this is not all that it's cracked up to be"), together conjured up the most breathtaking eight minutes of the night.

You couldn't help but wonder if throwing the set list into a blender might have made the whole show that riveting, but the fact that she rewrites it nightly is a noble gamble with a variable return. And anyway, it's her party, and she can make us all cry if she wants to. Or make us all cry, cheer us back up, make us cry again, and then stick a fork in the gig with an AC/DC cover. 'Cause she did that, too. "It's a Long Way to the Top," and no knowing how long you'll stay, so nothing to do while you're there but whatever you want.

-- CHRIS KLIMEK

Williams performs again at the 9:30 club this evening; tickets are still available.

By J. Freedom du Lac |  March 4, 2009; 1:24 PM ET Live Last Night
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Comments

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I must say, for Lucinda fans I think the Tuesday show probably trended more toward "one for the books." It was one for me.

Sure, I would have preferred a few more up-tempo numbers and a few more of my personal favorites mixed in. But what really speaks to the show's quality is how much I really enjoyed some of the songs I've never cared for that much on her records. The band put real meat on some that have never seemed quite there, while the vast majority of the down-tempo songs were just gorgeous. Just think: have you ever heard the 9:30 Club that silent? That says a lot, to me.

Posted by: freshprince04 | March 4, 2009 3:44 PM

Have to agree with previous comment. I'm not fond of People Talking recorded; live it was extraordinary. The quality of Lucinda's voice and Buick 6's drummer made last night one for the books. Song selection was perfect, minus I Envy, but Overtime will suffice in lieu. The Honey Bee song live-- again, who knew? And they ate at Nathans-- I'm sorry but I have to give the props at the altar of Lucinda.

Posted by: sjordan1 | March 4, 2009 5:55 PM

I attended the Tuesday nite 'event' and while I was disappointed at first that the prime guitarist Doug Pettibone was not there, I quickly changed my tune as the show played on. The Buick 6 team certainly put a real edge on all of the heavy numbers and their skill and obvious enjoyment and camaraderie amongst themselves and with Williams was palpable. I believe it to be one of the best shows I have ever witnessed. THey rocked the rafters with Bleeding Fingers and some of the more up tempo numbers. Truly one for the ages.

Posted by: Stevedoro | March 5, 2009 9:27 AM

I also enjoyed the concert a lot, but I agree with the author when he refers to the show as "intermittently sublime" and to Ms.Williams' stage presence as "tentative at best."

She was so tied to her written songbook that it seriously interfered with her ability to connect with an adoring crowd. I actually thought they'd have been completely forgiving of any memory lapses - often a source of humor and banter in shows at 9:30 and other intimate venues - if only she'd relaxed into her performance more.

Simply, she seemed scared and lacking in confidence. In a way, that was endearing; in another way, it prevented her from enjoying her own performance as much as her audience clearly wanted her to.

And she showed the possibilities lying under the layers of insecurity, as the author points out, later in the show and in the encores.

Don't get me wrong: it was a really good show. But I'd rather be wincing at the pain in those lovely songs so sweetly rendered than at the obvious discomfort Ms. Williams experiences on stage.

*Pssst! Ms. Williams - two words: GINKO BILOBA*

Posted by: NickPayne | March 9, 2009 9:28 AM

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