Sliding into the spotlight as she walked on stage at the Vogue Theatre on Tuesday night (6.9.09), Lucinda Williams, with her now brunette-not-blonde hair, a flowing white long-sleeved blouse matched with a black vest, seemed relaxed. Maybe it was the confidence of supporting an excellent album (“Little Honey”) on the tour. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that her backing band (Buick 6) brings the rock and roll goods.
Or most likely, she knows just how good her songs really are.
Over the next two hours, Williams proceeded to rip through 25 songs from her stellar catalogue, and magic happened when it clicked; the band rocked, her glorious voice purred and shouted, and both left room for the music to breathe.
The back half of the night was full of energy, scorching guitars, slamming drums and Williams’ high and lonesome rock voice. While many of her terrific relationship songs were loaded into the front of the show, there was the large crowd’s palpable, growing desire for the band and singer to catch fire together and elevate the energy level in the room.
After opening the concert with “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad”, and the island-flavored “Big Red Sun Blues”, both off her self-titled 1988 album, it was evident her band (who also played 35 minutes of rocking and nuanced instrumentals as the opening act) was well suited for Williams. They push her, just as her own lyrics and unique voice pull the band into moments of magic. They need each other.
“Can’t Let Go” was a pleaser, one of a half dozen songs she would play from “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”, her 1998 masterpiece that still stands as her crowning achievement. “Concrete and Barbed Wire” (also from that album) followed, giving the crowd gospel in the music and falsetto in her singing.
“Learning How to Live”, from 2007’s “West” record was a highlight of this early part of the show, with well-placed Hammond B3 keys, and Williams’ signature tough-as-hell-but still fragile delivery, The song contained echoes of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fade Away”. It was beautifully executed.
The new record’s “Tears of Joy” paid homage to a Stax/Al Green/Memphis groove and also got the first big audience response when the band ripped into the instrumental sections and turned the tune into fiery rock and roll, grabbing the crowd’s attention. “Are You Alright?” was beautiful, sung as a would-be lover pining for someone long gone, while “Ventura” had a 60’s pop feel, complete with a sublime Beach Boys-influenced background vocal.
Two off the “Gravel Road” record followed; “Jackson” was performed with stand-up bass and the anthemic “I Lost It” featured a vocal performance from Williams that one-upped the recorded version. At 56, Lucinda’s vocals sound better than ever live, and she wasn’t fearful of pushing her voice as the band roared behind her. The only time she was tough to hear was between songs late in the show when the crowd’s appreciative applause and screams drowned her out. When that happened, her big smile revealed that the noise was OK with her.
As Indianapolis was shown by Williams’ performance, two strengths head the list of her virtues as an artist: the consistent sexiness of her words and songs, and the depth of her material, both in individual tunes, and the cumulative effect of her output over the past 20 years.
Calling “Drunken Angel”, (another off of “Car Wheels on Gravel Road”) her version of Bob Seger’s “Beautiful Loser”, she swayed left to right and up and down as she played her guitar. The new album’s “Little Rock Star” had the feel of an epic as the momentum built.
Faith was rewarded as the show took flight over final seven songs of the set, beginning with the chiming “la la la’s” of “Out of Touch” from her 2001 album “Essence”, and into her recent single “Real Love”. Next came the driving country rocker “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar” from 2003’s “World Without Tears”, followed by the great, sexy kiss-off of “Come On”. That led into a roaring “Honey Bee” from her new album, which had the musicians in a tight circle at center stage, pounding their way through the rocker.
“Righteously” closed the set, featuring a buzzsaw guitar and lyrics showcasing essential Lucinda Williams attitude: honesty, a bit of anger, and always hinting that she’s one bad ass chick who can be yours if you could only figure out how to love both her charms and daggers.
The three-song encore proved a bit anti-climactic, saved by the AC/DC cover of “It’s a Long Way to the Top” that’s the last cut on her “Little Honey” record. A nearly full Vogue theater, damn good for weeknight, was acknowledged by Williams, obviously enjoying, and seemingly a bit surprised by, her crowd’s screaming warmth.