Weather Report: Lucinda Williams
Malkin Bowl - Vancouver, BC - June 12, 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2007, Volume 14, #6
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Sat June 20, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
In the blink of an eye, Lucinda Williams can transform herself from an ethereal portrait of serenity into a howling tempest. During a recent stop at the Malkin Bowl in Vancouver, the decimated and split remains of the giant firs and cedars that once lined Stanley Park stood as a quiet metaphor that underlined the power of her performance. Like the trees, Williams is a survivor, one who paradoxically is polished and worn, elegant and torn, victorious and defeated. Nevertheless, ageless and eternal, she managed to carry the seeds of her weathered wisdom to new ground, giving birth to the optimism of second chances before the crowd that had gathered to hear her sing as night fell. Beneath cloudy skies, as an unseasonably cold wind wrapped its frosty fingers around the gathered fans who were draped in sweaters and blankets, Williams took it upon herself to bear the brunt of nature’s wrath, channeling its energy into one of the most impassioned concerts in recent memory. Awakened from their slumbers, the demons that lurked inside her mind and body sprang forth once she took the stage to deliver her tales of love, loss, and redemption. Those who witnessed the exorcism will never be the same.
Backed by a stripped-down trio that consisted of longtime guitarist Doug Pettibone, bass player David Sutton, and drummer Butch Norton, Williams began the concert with a slow, simmering rendition of Rescue from her new album West. This tale of self-reliance and acceptance in the face of disappointment showed off the new maturity and depth in Williams’ approach, which not only marked the material from the effort but also extended to the reinterpretations of her old classics. Clearly influenced by the diversity of sonic textures that she had explored with producer Hal Wilner, Williams was re-energized as she strutted her stuff on the Vancouver stage. Shedding the alt-country style that she had helped to pioneer but had pushed as far as it could go, she and her accompanists created some very interesting soundscapes by venturing onto ambient and jazzy turf in between the dominant melodies that served as backdrops for her poems.
Songs from Williams’ oeuvre that long had passed their expiration date — such as Ventura and Pineola — were ferociously re-imagined and delivered with new vitality and relevance. The latter track from 1992’s Sweet Old World always had a lot of potential. However, Williams’ vocal maturity — which comes after another 15 years of living that saw a lot of water flow under the bridge — allowed her to carry the lyrics and plumb the emotional depths of her tale of suicide and loss.
Not surprisingly, it was the new material from West that was the focus of Williams’ performance, and these past few months on the road have allowed her to explore and coax the soul out of each of the album’s tracks. Fancy Funeral, an ode to her mother’s passing, was particularly moving and authentically touching. She followed this with a torch-y version of Still I Long for Your Kiss from her 1998 breakthrough Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Putting her guitar aside allowed her to reach deep inside herself in order to pull out vocals in a way that she never previously had been able to sustain. In a concert full of highlights, the only song that fell slightly flat was Drunken Angel, a tribute to a little-known Texas songwriter named Blaze Foley. Also from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, this tune had often been a showstopper for her in the past. Although her introductory monologue was full of insight and compassion, she clearly has lost the feel for the song itself, and she needs to put it on the shelf for a while until she can recapture the emotional intensity that it demands.
Halfway through the concert, Williams asked the cold and wet audience to stand up, joking that she had talked to the notoriously heavy-handed security at the venue and told them to allow people to get up and dance because it would help her to play better. Saying that she needed to feel the energy and achieve a spiritual connection with the assembled crowd, she ripped into Righteously (from World without Tears), which brought everyone to their feet as she snarled her defiant rebuke to a lover who had done her wrong.
Highlight after highlight followed as Lucinda went deeper into the place where her art resides. Singing Unsuffer Me, which she admitted was her favorite track from West, she again set aside her guitar, thus accentuating the nakedness of her performance. Up "Heartbreak Creek" without a paddle, she unleashed a depth of passion that brought tears and howls from the crowd as 2,000 people revisited, wrestled with, and expunged buried pains and disappointments en masse. Like a diaphanous veil, the distance separating the members of the audience from the singer melted away, and a collective exorcism seemed to take place. The wind howled and rain began to fall anew as Williams dug deeply into her unconscious and fell to her knees before wailing the song to a crashing, sobbing finale.
Bringing opening act Kelly Joe Phelps onto the stage to join Pettibone and Colin Linden — the legendary guitarist and producer who, in recent years, has been associated closely with Bruce Cockburn — Williams ripped into Joy as the three axe-men traded blistering riffs with each other. Rocking into an ever-tighter circle, with the pressure and intensity mounting into a metallic rave-up as the wind battered the stage, Williams broke into an ecstatic grin that attested to the righteous, healing power of music. She looked like she never wanted the show to end. Dancing like a Sufi on Jack Daniels, she cajoled her band along as they flew around the melody for eight minutes before segueing into a free-jazz, psychedelic montage that morphed into an excerpt from The Doors’ Riders on the Storm. Just then, the skies broke open, and rain began to drench the audience.
A soaked and bedraggled Williams returned minutes later, clearly flying on musical alchemy and adrenaline, to deliver Disgusted — an old blues classic that she has turned into a concert staple. The erotically charged Honey Bee followed. After asking the audience if they minded getting wet, Williams and her band churned into Get Right with God before a technician demanded that everyone leave the stage due to the risk of being electrocuted. Williams seemed as if she could keep right on playing, but she had to satisfy herself by talking to her fans. She thanked them for a special evening before she finally retreated to take cover from the elements.
Williams’ concert on Tuesday night in Vancouver was a textbook example of what a rock concert should be but rarely is. Operating without a set list, receptive to her own muse as well as to the mood of the audience, Williams wore her humanity and her vulnerability on her sleeve as she delivered a report from her soul that — like the weather that night — was tempestuous and full of changes and caprice. Williams is so saturated and soaked to the skin with talent that it’s impossible to imagine her doing anything else with her life than what she’s doing now. In today’s musical landscape, she is a peerless entertainer. Having the heart and resolve to follow her dreams, Williams reminded everyone in attendance that as far as anyone knows this is our one life and these are our years to get it right — with or without God. Regardless of the weather, Lucinda Williams got it right.
Of Further Interest...
West is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box