by Tom Finkel
On Little Honey, released last week, Lucinda Williams returns to the raw roots that fed her music -- and seduced a generation -- in the 1980s and '90s. The more pointy-headed thinkers of that generation will now proceed to debate how the new disc stacks up against 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the record that transformed Williams from cult icon to Artist-With-a-Capital-A.
The thing about records is you can't ever go backward, only forward. Car Wheels was ten years ago. It won't happen again.
But the thing about live shows is you can go backward and forward. And last night at the Pageant, Lucinda Williams took the crowd on a Sunday-night tour of her career, sprinkling Little Honey on a third of the 21-song set but also reaching back as far as Happy Woman Blues (1980) and sampling liberally from in between.
More after the jump, along with setlist and beaucoup videos from the show...
After an opening set by her backing band, Buick 6, Williams came onstage at a little after nine dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and a T. Rex T-shirt and started right in with the lead track on Little Honey, "Real Love." The going was a little rough at first, with a guitar mishap or two -- "I don't know why people say I'm such a perfectionist; I've already made three mistakes," Williams said early on. The new album served as a touchstone as the evening went on, as Williams repeatedly veered off for a couple of older songs, then returned, then headed off again into the back catalogue.
Lucinda Williams (1988), her major-label breakthrough (on Rough Trade), yielded an upbeat twosome, "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad" and "Changed the Locks"; its follow-up, Sweet Old World (1992), contributed "Pineola" and the horny "Something About What Happens When We Talk." (It's a tiny bit disconcerting to see audience members singing along to the former, a harrowing narrative about the suicide of the poet Frank Stanford, who "shot himself with a forty-four." But hell, a song's a song.)
Fittingly, 2008's "Little Rock Star," in which Williams admonishes, "But with all of your talent, and so much to gain/To toss it away like that would be such a shame" (Ryan Adams, et al., are you listening?), was sandwiched between Car Wheels' "Drunken Angel" and "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings," from World Without Tears (2003).
The encore consisted of three covers. An old number by Skip James called "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" served to comment on the current fiscal state of the nation, while Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" (you know, Stephen Stills -- "Stop, hey, what's that sound/Everybody look what's goin' down") struck a political chord before AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top" (which is included on Little Honey) shooed everyone off toward home with their ears ringing.
In Buick 6, and guitarist Doug Pettibone in particular, Williams has found a sound that suits her own, blending into the background when the material demands it, and rocking when it needs to rock. Last night's Pageant crowd was treated to a rock show, and there wasn't a pointy head to be seen.
In case you missed it, here's a taste, or three, or four, followed by the setlist:
"I Just Wanted to See You So Bad"
"Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings"
"For What It's Worth" (Buffalo Springfield cover) & "It's a Long Way to the Top" (AC/DC cover)
1. Real Love 2. I Just Wanted to See You So Bad 3. Tears of Joy 4. Something About What Happens When We Talk 5. People Talkin' 6. Jailhouse Tears 7. Pineola 8. Well Well Well 9. Can't Let Go 10. I Lost It 11. Out of Touch 12. Drunken Angel 13. Little Rock Star 14. Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings 15. Changed the Locks 16. Honey Bee 17. Joy 18. Happy Woman Blues 19. Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues 20. For What It's Worth 21. It's a Long Way to the Top
Lucinda Williams (guitar, vocals) Doug Pettibone (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin) Chet Lyster (guitar, keyboards) David Sutton (bass) Butch Norton (drums)