Sunday, March 13, 2011

Live: Lucinda Williams, 3/12/11 at Webster Hall, NYC

I've been to quite a few shows billed as "sold out" at Webster Hall. Well, on Saturday night, which was the second evening of two "sold out" NYC appearances by Lucinda Williams, it easily put the other crowds to shame. Thinking I would have the same amount of leisurely personal space around me for this show, I was sadly mistaken. To call the joint "packed" would be a gross understatement.

Simply put, when Lucinda Williams and her band took the stage Saturday night in lower Manhattan, the seasoned songwriter led her mates through over two hours of music that spanned her prolific and poetic discography. It was a rewarding and lasting performance that allowed Ms. Williams to dig deep into her stirring catalog, while her well-oiled band of musicians set the scene for her to shine throughout.

"Well, Well, Well" was a sly way to open the night, greeted by the crowd with thunderous cheers, faithful claps and spirited hollers. It seemed that the room filled with repeat-attendees was happy to see her yet again, and judging by the wide smile on the face of Ms. Williams, the feeling was mutual. It was a stripped down arrival with a loose guitar boogie accompanied by some washboard scratches and steady bass notes, that together set the tone under the declarative vocals of their leader.

"Can't Let Go", a staple from the days of her Car Wheels On A Gravel Road album, followed. It was a foot tapping strut, giving the crowd a fixed classic from her catalog with some outstanding slide work by guitarist Val McCallum. The tunes continued with the sway of "People Talkin'" and the ache of "Still I Long For Your Kiss", which led up to two more Car Wheels tunes bookending a new song from her latest album, Blessed. "Right In Time", then the Blessed opener "Buttercup", followed by "Metal Firecracker". The bulletproof consistency of these tunes, that stretch from opposite ends of the songwriter's discography, connected effortlessly.

The same could be said for the thread of "I Don't Know How Your Livin", "World Without Tears", and "Born To Be Loved". These strung together gracefully and gave her new tunes some new found context within her cannon. "Born to Be Loved" is such a hard-hitting tune from her new album, and it did not lose any of it's poignancy within the evening's performance. With it's stirring lyrics that balance a reflective sense of sentimentality with a seductively nuanced arrangement, the tune unravels with Ms. Williams dismissing any cause of pain to a loved one's purpose, plainly and conclusively stating "You were born to be loved". It was a tune that was expertly understated, and another example of one of the songwriter's indisputable gifts displayed throughout the set.

Hot on the heels of "Born To Be Loved", Lucinda led the band into the smoldering, expansive, and rock-infused portion of the evening. The brilliant "Convince Me" found Ms. Williams belting out a pleadingly lonesome lament over snaking guitar lines, only to be fully unleashed by the powerful force of Butch Norton's drumming and the throbbing bass of David Sutton. The band as a whole burned up the number and then cut it loose on a prowling rendition of "Atonement", with Ms. Williams moaning a number of wicked and seductive proclamations of "Come on, Come on".

"Seeing Black" and "Out of Touch" continued to blaze through the set with unyielding force and power. The vocal performances by Ms. Williams continued to expand during this portion of the set. Her voice cracked, moaned, and seduced- culminating in the fuzzy, lovelorn, and imploring "Unsuffer Me", a true standout from her album West. This triplet of emotionally charged and pent up narratives were blown apart by the band's relentless charge into the darkest places of these songs, providing Ms. Williams with the room to stretch out and  dig deep into them.

"Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" and her classic "Changed The Locks" were both greeted with an overwhelming response from the crowd. The rocker "Honey Bee" got the floorboards shaking with it's hard driving punches.

"Blessed" took things down into a moodier space, with the crowd easing into the sentiment conveyed by Ms. Williams. The audience kept with her as she pulled out a cover of Fats Domino's "I Live My Life". These two tunes, coupled together, seemed to be an insightful glimpse into where Ms. Williams can be said to be at this point in her trajectory: as songwriter and performer with a continued attention to personal past/ present experiences, bringing them into her storytelling, while sharing an unflinching desire to convey honesty and depth. 

Closing out the show were two more exceptional performances, that focused on uncertainly and a longing for better days. First, the bitterly and defiantly triumphant "Joy" lashed out with a scorned lover's search for happiness by rattling off her demands, as well as guesses where her happiness may be hiding out. And then came the inspiring cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth". The tune was introduced by Ms. Williams, as she pondered aloud of the significance of the frustration, anger, sadness, and uncertainty that seems to be unfolding everywhere in the world right now. While not proving answers, these two songs captured a sense of displacement and struggle, while sparking an emotive impression throughout the venue.

These songs expertly sealed the evening's performance, by solidifying Ms. Williams' willingness to not just reach into herself to find inspiration and connect with listeners, but her ability to reach out and interpret experiences around her. The night was an inspiring and genuine performance by a brilliant songwriter who delivered an evening of music that resonated and stirred both sonically and lyrically. Lucinda Williams has given us much to enjoy throughout her career, and judging by Saturday night's performance- she's got much, much more to give.

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