Lucinda Williams At Beacon Theatre, Monday, November 17th, 2014, Reviewed
In a sharp, supple and powerful 22 song trip through her 35 years as a singer songwriter at Beacon Theatre Monday evening, Lucinda Williams put to bed many lingering doubts as to the Louisiana country gals ability to sway an audience. Often too coolly withdrawn to get her hands dirty with the fans in the past, Lucinda still suffers a little from a distancing effect, and around the three quarter way mark it hurt her in selling a hat trick of bruising blues jams, “Protection”, “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Atonement” but she pulled out of the swerve with a terrific “Changed The Locks” (made famous by Tom Petty) and sailed into the night with Velvet Underground, Fats Domino and Neil Young covers.
Opening were the Kenneth Brian Band from Decatur, Alabama, and they are really really good. Blistering southern rockers with power to burn and in their brief 30 minute set made themselves some new friends singing songs off their fine 2011 album Welcome To Alabama. Steve Crawford caught them a coupla years back and noted they have a few really solid tunes.They could be a little more friendly but I got no real kicks.
Lucinda began her career as the Louisiana arts and craftsy daughter of the poet Miller Williams, she released her first album in 1978 and with her second album, Happy Woman Blues, had caught the attention of the rock community. It took her eight years to follow it up with her eponymous third album, featuring her “Passionate Kisses” which would get her a Grammy via Mary Chapin Carpenter, and ten years later she broke all the way through (except for commercially) with Car Wheel On A Gravel Road . The following album Essence, broke her commercially. And her current, self released, double album Down where The Spirit Meets The Bone, hit the album charts at #13, so figured it has cumed at 50K units.
Consider Lucinda the Chrissie Hynde of Americana: a badass who has been around awhile. She writes about born loser boyfriends over and over again, and never seems to move far from her Southern roots, she has an eye for detail and when not throwing up one blues riff after another, she can write as devastating a country as you”ve ever heard ,On Monday night, with a no nonsense little three piece country rock band behind her, she performed some doozys. Half of the first ten were phenomenal songs and if the band seemed more enrapt in the performance then the audience, compare it to Chrissie Hynde’s quick loss of the audience last month where Chrissie force fed us the newbie. Lucinda opened with the blessing “Blessed” and a little later followed “Pineola” with “Drunken Angel” with “West Memphis” and finally with one of her most perfect songs “Side Of The Road”.
Another loser boyfriend, another goodbye, more Southern Goth country rock Americana dreams, more distancing between audience and artist and yet somehow, Lucinda doesn’t come across as intransigent or cold. With a double album to hawk, she didn’t stick it down our throats, and while clearly with no urge to talk much, when she did speak she had something to say. Telling us how her father had tried to explain the difference between poetry and lyric and how she came to compose the music to her father’s words in the opening track of the new album, “Compassion”, it is something worth hearing. Playing a song for her boyfriend (? I think that’s what she said) the Austin songwriter Blaze Foley -he was 39 years old the day he was shot to death, the opening lines are as concise and perfect a piece of song lyric as you will ever hear: “the sun went up it was another day, the sun came down you were blown away”.
The two hour set meandered here and there but once she could see the finish line she went for it, following “Joy” with “Honey Bee” to take her to the encore and the place belonged to her. Williams might not be the frontperson to pull out a set by pure willpower, but she has been doing it long enough to know how to construct a set and she constructed this one so cleverly it freed her all the way. At the Beacon Theatre Williams performed a very good two hours of Americana, maybe too many blues work outs, maybe it could have used a few more shadings, her vocals can get a bit much. But her band is excellent and it was a good set.