Lucinda Williams and Charlie Louvin
Saturday, July 14, 2007
The electricity before the show wasn’t just among Lucinda Williams fans -- the foreboding clouds above them had that special hue of orange, as lightning struck in the distance and a cool wind threatened to knock down opening act Charlie Louvin, who celebrated his 80th birthday exactly one week ago.
Louvin, half of the legendary Louvin Brothers from Nashville’s mid-century golden era, has been playing live shows since World War II. A tornadic sky wasn’t going to phase him. Following a brief break demanded by venue staff, he finished a saucy, honky-tonk performance for the growing crowd beneath a brief rain.
Next, Stretch, venue organizer and unofficial lord of the Crossroads Art District, scandalized the evening by announcing Lucinda as a “three-time Grammy nominee" -- that’s winner, buddy -- but she must not have heard or cared, as she treated the crowd to a nonstop set for nearly two and half hours.
The Louisiana native started slow with ballads such as “Are You Alright?” from her new album, West. But, wearing a tight Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and even tighter jeans, she told the Saturday-night crowd, “I know y’all want to rock.”
When the tempo picked up, the crowd became pushy with requests, and Lucinda happily tossed her set list to the wind, dusting off lesser known compositions such as “Changed the Locks,” recorded a decade ago on her self-titled album and later made famous by Tom Petty. The song’s general sentiment -- bemusedly telling a man to fuck off -- pervaded the evening’s selections: “Come On” from West (“You didn’t even make me… Come on!”) and “Jailhouse Tears,” an unrecorded country duet with kick-ass guitarist Doug Pettibone in which she refuses to believe that he’s gotten off the smack.
The biggest surprise of the show was Lucinda herself, whose rough voice loses its threatening edge when experienced live. Her distinctive, unimpressed drawl is famously and intentionally monotonous, save a few growls, but becomes much gentler, much sadder, when paired with her changing face. She even smiles. Quite a bit. And the stories she shared opened a window to the subtle humor of her writing -- “I Lost It,” from 1980’s Happy Woman Blues and 1998’s hugely successful Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, was written in response to the popular 1970s bumper sticker that read, “I found it.” (“No one was quite sure what they had found,” she said.)
The evening turned to the blues, specifically of the Delta variety, which influenced the Lake Charles native as much as country music did. “It’s all country, baby,” she said, attempting to ease into a stretch of blues, but the crowd needed no warning and ate up “Disgusted,” a Lil’ Son Jackson cover recorded on Lucinda’s first album, 1979’s Ramblin’, as well as the new “Unsuffer Me,” a slow, pleading song that embodies her habit of intertwining spirituality and unabashed sexuality (men near the stage were obviously taken aback).
Since 2003’s World Without Tears, Lucinda has been experimenting with spoken-word blues, and at age 54 delivered a couple numbers that verged on rap, including the new “Wrap My Head Around That,” another fuck-off to a recent ex.
“I never really fit in with Nashville,” she said, and the crowd cheered. Lucinda seemed at home, having earlier expressed happiness at being “back in this part of the country.”
“Y’all are a blues crowd,” she decided at the end of the night. “Kansas City blues!”