Lucinda Williams Delivers the Most Perfect of Pleasures

Posted on Monday January 25th in

Lucinda Williams :: 2016.01.22 :: Brooklyn Bowl London

Photos courtesy of Trudi Knight

I was doubly excited at the prospect of seeing Lucinda Williams at Brooklyn Bowl this past weekend because I’d never been there before and because I would be fortunate enough to see her play over the course of two nights. I made sure of that as it’d been far too long since she’d visited these shores. Even the promo for her 2014 album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, didn’t elicit any London shows back then, which was as surprising as it was disappointing, seeing as the record was easily the highest charting of her career in the UK. Williams’ band for this tour is a stripped-down unit of regulars and the usual suspects — Stuart Mathis on guitar, David Sutton on bass, and Butch Norton on drums, and the three-piece conveniently doubled as the support act, Buick 6. Williams played a refreshingly different set each night, going for a slightly more rock-tinged, upbeat performance on Friday. That’s not to say that the second show didn’t have its upbeat moments. In fact, Saturday night, ultimately, had an altogether more dramatic climax but I’ll come to that later….

On Friday, by her own admission, Williams initially struggled to connect with the audience. To remedy the situation, she sent her band offstage, which surprised those in the audience, puzzled in part because it had all sounded great. Rather cleverly she secured the vibe by going acoustic for a few numbers and giving the set a down-home, intimate feel, and it worked. After three songs, in her gorgeous Southern drawl, Williams — notably relieved and relaxed — asked, “Y’see, isn’t that much better now?” In the process, she reduced the distance between audience and band to zero, and then Williams summoned her band back to the stage, and the four of them rocked out like a powerhouse unit for the remaining 90 minutes. There were still spacious, atmospheric interludes and heartfelt moments of melancholy, especially when she discussed the recent passing away of father, the poet Miller Williams, of which her brand new album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, seems preoccupied with, at least in part, and certainly in mood, feel and aesthetic.

The rest of the show was a solid, country-rockin’ set. But another of the things these two shows made me conscious of is just how perfectly indefinable Lucinda Williams’ music is, especially in the live setting: Country rock? Blues rock? Roots rock? Southern rock? Feminist rock? Who cares? She rocks, and that’s all we need to know. That said, I couldn’t help but think, based on the local geography, that this inability to easily pigeonhole her music may well be one of the reasons why an artist of her caliber wasn’t playing the 02 next door, which is a crime against music as far as I am concerned.

Lucinda Williams :: 2016.01.23 :: Brooklyn Bowl London

Photos courtesy of Ben Gibson

If the venue hadn’t been totally sold out on Friday, it certainly was on Saturday. It began as a surprisingly downbeat set, which included more material from the introspective new album than the previous night. That said, after an hour, the mood lifted with the uncensored, expletive-complete title track of the singer’s 2001 album, Essence. Plus, we were treated to trips further back in time to her eponymous 1988 album, which got the audience worked up, somewhere around the two-hour mark. But the real Saturday night fun was just about to kick in: Rather surprisingly, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore stepped up to Mathis’s vintage Gibson guitar and strangled it into submission and punished the battered tube amp to the strains of a seven-minute almost-decade-old “Unsuffer Me.” And just when everyone thought they’d had their euphoric fill, who should jump up onstage but arguably the only rock chick the equal of our Lucinda? None other than Chrissie Hynde.

The two of them launched into a blistering duet of “Sweet Side,” off 2003’s World Without Tears. Time for another Saint Paul–on-the-road-to-Damascus-like epiphany as, hitherto, I’d never quite realised the proximity of this song to a hip-hop vibe, especially in this context with the call-and-answer from two of the coolest ladies on the planet. Everyone was ecstatic by now, just in time to receive a knowing nod of appreciation to London’s rock heritage with a cover of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” followed by a perfectly apt rendition of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” And rock we did, right up to the two-and-a-quarter-hour mark when the band finally left the stage. But within seconds they returned for an encore of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll).” Williams thanked the audience for coming out and for digging deep into their pockets during these economic hard times, a touching sentiment and a perfect end to the most perfect of pleasures — a night on the town with Lucinda Williams and her awesome road band.
—Martyn Bonanza | Bonanza & Son on Resonance FM


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