Lucinda in Ithica, very much doing a Diane Keaton sort of thing.
Saturday, March 12
Better Than: The “80s Prom Night” party going on next door.
You know what you don’t see ’round these parts that often? Drummers coming out onstage rocking a washboard. Not that Lucinda Williams would know what’s going on around here, but still, you gotta respect someone willing to open a show with a folksy back-porcher like “Well Well Well” instead of one of her numerous upbeat country-rockers, which allows us the rare pleasure of watching someone rock a washboard in Webster Hall without irony. Really, it’s such pleasantries that make you thankful Williams is still touring heavily and, in this case, playing a venue like this, by all means a tiny space for the woman who gave us Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
Her set Saturday night drew heavily from Blessed, her 10th studio album, full of songs that blend effortlessly into her bluesy-country-Southern-rock milieu; watching her these days, it’s interesting to try and figure out what people still love about her. As much as her fans bicker over where she’s gone since Car Wheels and how nothing will ever top it, together as a unified group, they stand by her even as she leans on new material she’s clearly much more interested in playing. Meanwhile, Williams still looked very much the same as she’s always has. It’d be easy to liken her to your Aunt’s favorite hairdresser: faded jeans, highlights in the hair, and a steady command as she swayed back and forth and side to side, slowly delivering songs like “Buttercup” and “Still I Long for Your Kiss.” To this day, watching her, you feel like she’s someone you know.
She can be a Chatty Kathy at times, but tonight, she just plowed through her two-hour-plus set with few interruptions. When you don’t have a performer talking much to you, you can’t help but delve into your own thoughts and memories, which is what she’s ultimately a master at: conjuring up vivid recollections of when you first found out about her, whether through Car Wheels or Essence or something even later. Not so much when she’s doing rockers like “Honeybee,” but when there’s real, raw emotion at play that her fans still identify with. One of Blessed‘s best tunes, “Born to Be Loved,” has the potential for a strong connection down the road — it’s too new right now, but it resonates like the modern-day Dylan that a lot of her later work could pass for (except her voice is aging far more gracefully, to say the least). A lot of folks just sit back and close their eyes when she strums through tunes like “Right in Time” and “Out of Touch,” transporting themselves back to wherever they were and whoever they were with at the time. Lucinda’s lucky to have that zoning-out effect on people these days; washboard stunts are great and all, but they only serve to distract you from your own memories.
Critical Bias: A few years ago, I spoke with Williams for this very publication, and she was a sweetheart.
Random Notebook Dump: Did that woman next to me just say Lucinda’s voice sounds like velvet? What would that even sound like?