Friday, March 10, 2006

Lucinda Williams -- "Live @ the Fillmore"

Lucinda Williams, affectionately called Lu by adoring fans, has been strumming her guitar and belting out contemporary country/blues songs since the late 70's when she issued her first studio effort featuring cover songs on Ramblin'. Throughout her extensive touring over the last three decades, it was a pretty safe bet that she was three sheets to the wind on stage. During last night's show at The Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, she seemed more alert and interactive with the crowd. I can't say for sure but I'd bet there was something tasty in the two huge red cups she sipped throughout her 90-minute show. At one point, when Doug Pettibone stood up and moved across the stage to play pedal steel, she asked him where he was going in this little girl voice reminiscent of Bette Midler in The Rose.

I've been watching this gritty powerhouse since the early 90's when I was lucky enough to catch her show at the now defunct Graffiti Showcase on Baum Boulevard. I've been wracking my brain trying to remember who she played with but it hasn't come to me yet. Back then, she was touring her Lucinda Williams CD released on Rough Trade Records (also now defunct) and she appeared on a dimly lit stage with her namesake "beat to hell and back" cowboy hat and dirty cowboy boots. She was shy as a performer, almost uncertain she could sing the next song after mumbling hushed song titles to a small appreciative crowd. I bought her CD that night without hesitation and played it often over the next six years. She played my favorite at last night's acoustic duo with Doug Pettibone, "Am I Too Blue." It was a standout in the show as was her performance of "Right in Time."

Williams has a knack for "he done me wrong and now I'm going to make him pay" song lyrics. In a novice's hands, these songs might fail as country knock offs. Perhaps the ability to capture life's darker moments in words is in her blood. Her father is a published professor of poetry and joined up with her a few years ago to do a live reading of his poems between her songs. I missed that show but it got some decent reviews. We heard a new song last night "Rescuer" that sounded like a little girl's lament about father's not being able to make everything perfect in the world. She also sang "Jailhouse Tears" and "Tears of Joy" back to back, the latter of which she explained is a song about her new life of happiness with her man.

She reassured the audience that she has plenty of dark moments in the well that she can dip into for inspiration and went on to say she realized that life doesn't have to be so hard in order to write good songs. It was odd in a way, hearing Lu talk about her desire for a fulfilling, loving relationship, and happier days ahead. She did mention a ring in "Tears of Joy" so I can only assume she's engaged or at the very least, very taken.

The Sweet Old World CD, which followed Lucinda Williams, focused on a world sweet in comparison to bad relationships ("Lines Around Your Eyes") and a family suicide ("Pineola"). This was a stunning follow up to Lucinda Williams and deserved far greater acclaim than she received. Her next album, released six years later, would change everything. The public would know all about Lu with the release of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road in 1998 (titled Car Tires on a Dirt Road before being finalized). We could all kiss the intimate club dates goodbye after the album went gold.

Mary Chapin Carpenter (whose sister, McKenzie Carpenter, writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) recorded "Passionate Kisses" from Lucinda Williams and earned them both a Grammy. I much prefer Lu's original version with her raw nasal-sounding inflections and tell-tale Texas drawl although last night's performance of the song was far too rushed -- she furiously sang and played it at nearly double the original tempo (a disappointment). Lu earned a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album (Car Wheels on a Gravel Road) and another for Best Female Rock Performance ("Get Right with God" from Essence released in 2001).

Lucinda went on to release World Without Tears in 2003 that contained some really stellar reflections about life on the road and broken relationships. Stand outs included "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings," "Those Three Days," and "Sweet Side." Live @ The Fillmore, her most recent CD, is laid back and lacking in her typical audience banter. It was recorded during two nights and spliced together. She also has a DVD out titled Live from Austin Texas, which I haven't seen. There are more than a few bootlegs floating around; one featuring her four-hour tour closer in Baltimore, Maryland. I'd love to hear that one.

Lu did not mention her native city Lake Charles, Louisiana, last night. Maybe it's too painful to talk about. Still, I was surprised she never once talked about Hurricane Katrina.

Lucinda Williams will continue to be a dynamic, down-to-earth, singer with enough edgy blues riffs to fill concert halls in the years to come. Something tells me, she'll mature into an even more eloquent lyricist given time and some reflection on what her life has given her. Her web site is so-so and she commands $25 to join her fan club (I hope that isn't a trend). If you want to listen to Lucinda, check her site out or go to Amazon and load up on her "sweet sweet ba-beeeee" drawls. If you venture out to her show, let me know what you thought and pay attention to the two-inch thick book of songs she thumbs through on stage. AMAZING catalogue!


Blogger bruce said...

I was lucky enough to see Lucinda 3 times last year. What really impressed me was how friendly and talkative she has become. I think she is in a much better space these days. I saw her a couple of years ago at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and she had a complete meltdown. And the new music is great. Can't wait for the next studio CD.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Great review. Sounds like she gave almost an identical show in Cleveland. She even talked about dipping into the well and her new man. I also noticed the part about the ring. Go Lou! She played lake Charles at our show and I recorded it on my cameera (video). That was the only recording I took and it turned out great. She was so excited about doing the acoustic tou. I feel so lucky to have seen her play her songs just like she wrote them. "Stripped down" as she said. She seemed perfectly sober and was in a great mood at the show. I must say she IS the best songwrite in history ( Time magazine agrees) and it was THE best performance I have ever seen live. It certainly didn't hurt that we won VIP passes that night and got to hang out in the fancy schmancy VIP bar and lounge! Just too bad we didn't run into Lou there. Also I really like Tim Easton too.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

One of the first tapes I bought was Come on Come on by MCC when I was 11. I loved loved loved Passionate Kisses. I'd spend recess and lunch obsessing over the lyrics which I'd had written down in my notebook. I didn't fully encounter Lucinda Williams until I was in high school, though, on the Horse Whisperer soundtrack. But once I bought Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and made the connection, it all made sooo much sense.

4:50 AM  

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