Tuesday, October 9, 2007


(This picture wasn't taken at the show that I saw, I got it from Lucinda's web site).

Not every show can be great. But I was hoping that this one would be. Lucinda Williams was doing a five night stand in New York: each night, she would play one of her classic albums in its entirety. I had tickets for the night she was featuring my favorite of her albums, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. I was online the second tickets went on sale, and got 6th row center (for about $65 each, a fair deal I reasoned).

I’ve seen Lucinda several times, both headlining and opening for The Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. When she opened, she was often playing to crowds that included at least 50% classic rock radio people, and I always felt that she won many of them over. Her headlining gigs have always been very warm affairs: not flawless, but her fans love her so much, it's OK. And although she gets a lot of attention in the media, there’s a sense of being in on something that the general public doesn’t know about (or isn’t tasteful enough to appreciate). It’s the same deal with Steve Earle.

I remember one Lucinda gig really vividly: it was at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey – one of the best venues I’ve ever been to. Apparently, Lucinda felt the same way, and said so. She actually claimed it was the best concert she ever played (Elvis Costello, sitting in the front row, joined her for “Drunken Angel”).

Town Hall was way different. The first set was all Car Wheels – but they played it kind of tentatively. I thought they would really “own” the performance, and that it would have a been a great celebration of the album that exposed her to a wider audience. It really didn’t happen. The best parts were when Steve Earle joined her on stage – he co-produced some of the album, and played acoustic guitar on some tracks. So he played on a bunch of songs, and his presence seemed to raise her game. But she kept motioning to her sound guy, and she just didn’t look happy. It was an unremarkable set.

After the intermission, she returned… and played one song. Then she and her band left the stage so some kid Fionn Regan could perform a song. It was OK. Then they returned, but soon, Lucinda left and was replaced by Jesse Malin. I don’t get his appeal: Joey Ramone loved him, Bruce Springsteen is a fan, Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day signed him to his label. I just don’t think he is so extraordinary. But I digress: Jesse comes on stage, and talks about being turned on to Steve Earle because Steve opened for The Replacements, and that he got into Lucinda through a duet she did with Steve. He then did a really rocking tune – the band seemed to enjoy letting loose. Then he did a solo acoustic thing which sounded a bit goofy.

Later in the show, Lucinda left the stage again, this time for Steve Earle to do one solo acoustic song. Someone calls out “Ellis Unit One” – a not-super well known song from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. So, he played it, and it was incredibly moving. What was striking was that, he commanded the stage so fully, and that he played a song that he probably hadn’t rehearsed. Whereas Lucinda was reading from a lyric book all night and really never commanded the stage at all. At one point, during “Words,” she yelled at the soundguy for the mix being inappropriate for an “intimate” song. Later, after screwing up one of her best new songs, “Unsuffer Me,” she asked if the venue was built on an Indian burial ground. Town Hall is actually one of the best sounding venues in New York City.

I won’t go on: I will always love Lucinda’s songwriting, she truly is one of the greats. I don’t like writing negative stuff, when there’s so much negativity out there (especially on music blogs). I’ll probably go see her again in the future, but I think I need a break from her for now.

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