April 15, 2007

Lucinda Williams at the Ryman Auditorium 3/30/07

1. Rescue
2. Pineola
3. Fruits of My Labor
4. Drunken Angel
5. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
6. Fancy Funeral
7. Over Time
8. 2 Kool 2 B 4 Gotten
9. Those Three Days
10. Where Is My Love
11. Righteously
12. Come On
13. Essence
14. Atonement
15. Unsuffer Me
16. Joy*
17. Everything Has Changed
18. West
19. Are You Alright
20. Ode to Billie Joe

* with The Heartless Bastards
& Buddy Miller

It was convenient to already be downtown on a Friday night: the car was already parked and there was plenty of time for a leisurely and delicious dinner at Parco CafĂ© in Printer’s Alley before walking a few blocks over to the concert. Very nice.

Lucinda Williams seemed quite happy to be back in Nashville, performing at the historic Ryman Auditorium, legendary home of the Grand Ol’ Opry and she made several comments from the stage about the wild times she had back when she used to live in here in “Music City.” Nashville guitar-hero Buddy Miller’s appearance during “Joy” added to the homecoming vibe (at the end of which Lucinda sang, “gonna go to East Nashville and look for my Joy”).

It seemed to take her a few songs to warm up, but by “Fancy Funeral,” Lucinda’s voice was in fine form indeed. I was surprised to see her referring to a telephone-book-sized stack of lyrics, but she is a well known perfectionist - if that is what it takes to ensure the best performance she can give, who am I to quibble? The new songs from West (Lost Highway 2007) fit comfortably with the rest of her repertoire and the rarely performed cover of “Ode to Billie Joe” was absolutely chilling. There is a delicious crack in Lucinda’s voice and she takes a jazz-singer’s liberties with her phrasing, all of which gives her songs an unutterably poignant expression in live performance. “Where is My Love” was stunning. She really sounded fantastic in that hallowed hall.

I will quibble a bit with her new band, however. The rhythm section was stiff and unsubtle which caused some of the songs to plod more than rock. And while Doug Pettibone is a tasty and inventive guitarist along the lines of J.J. Jackson and Larry Campbell (but with a bit more edge), his volume level would go from nearly inaudible accompaniments to painfully loud solos which was frustrating and sadly unnecessary. Pettibone wielded an amazing arsenal of beautiful guitars: a cherry-red Strat, a Black Beauty Les Paul, a taxicab-yellow SG, a big ol’ Country Gentleman, and a guitar that appeared to be (and sounded like) it was made of solid aluminum. A pedal steel guitar was on stage, but he didn’t touch it that night. I really would have liked to have heard him with a more sympathetic mix. Despite my quibbles, I believe this band could, in time, develop into as satisfying an ensemble as the now defunct “Love Band” (see Lucinda Williams: Live @ The Fillmore (Lost Highway 2005) for an example of the “Love Band” at the peak of their powers).

Openers the Heartless Bastards were a mixed bag. Singer/songwriter, Erika Wennerstrom has a very interesting and up-to-date take on the country blues and there’s an evocatively wiggly trill in her voice (think Kristen Hirsch) coupled with Janis Joplin’s emotive wail. At times sounding something like a 2X-chromosome Led Zeppelin, I wished that the rhythm section was more dynamic and supple and, further, I desperately wished for Jimmy Page’s lead guitar to fill out the empty spaces. As it was, the music never really got off the ground, despite Wennerstrom’s obvious charisma. Nevertheless, I think Erika Wennerstrom is the real deal, and I recommend keeping eye on her.

In all, it was a terrific night out.


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