Concert Review: Lucinda Williams @ 9:30 Club, DC

Juli Thanki | March 5th, 2009

There are a few certainties in life: death, taxes, and the sad songs of Lucinda Williams. But wait! With the release of Little Honey in 2008, one of these certainties was shattered to mindblowing effect. Lucinda Williams, in love? Lucinda…happy?!

Of course, Williams is equally known for being an outstanding performer and for having epic meltdowns on stage. So walking in to D.C.’s packed 9:30 Club, I wasn’t quite sure which Lucinda would show up. As a lover of music, I hoped for the former, but as a lover of celebrity trainwrecks, the latter would have been appreciated too.

Luckily, Williams was the consummate professional from her very first step onstage, looking a bit like Joan Jett with a dyed-black shag haircut, leather vest, and skull and crossbones necklace. No meltdowns here; Lucinda was happy, smiling after every song and downright beaming when a member of the audience handed her a bouquet of daisies. There was even dancing while the members of her band traded solos back and forth (for the record, although Williams is an incredible singer/songwriter, she ain’t much of a dancer. But somehow it totally works for her, while the same moves from a normal human being would suggest a seizure disorder of some sort).

Next to Williams’ microphone was music stand containing a binder that held her songs’ lyrics. She would occasionally look to this binder, flipping from song to song, and the one time she didn’t—”Essence”—it probably would have been helpful, because she missed an entire line of the song. Aside from this brief misstep, Lucinda was spot on through the entire two-hour concert, showcasing the voice that Emmylou Harris once said could peel the paint off a trailer hitch. Lucinda’s voice may not be good, but it is great in doing what it’s supposed to do: convey emotion. As she plaintively sang “I guess out of the blue/You won’t cross my mind/I’ll get over you/Over time,” I would have curled up in the fetal position if the floor hadn’t been covered in beer.

Williams’ backing band, Buick 6, briefly opened the show before returning to support Williams. The four-man outfit did an outstanding switching from tear-in-beer country music to sternum-rattling Rock & Roll. Former Buick 6 guitarist Doug Pettibone, who is now embarking on a solo career, was hardly missed thanks to Chet Lyster and the band’s new guitar player Eric Schermerhorn. For the most part, Williams stuck to material from her most-recent four studio albums, opening with “People Talkin'” and then “Ventura” from World Without Tears before moving on to “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” Little Honey was featured prominently through the set, including “Circles and X’s,” a song that Williams has said was twenty years in the making. It was definitely worth the wait.

Lucinda wasted no time with crowd banter between songs other than the standard “thanks for comin’ out” and a much appreciated opinion about ticket surcharges. For an encore, Williams performed a stunning unaccompanied acoustic cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel,” then rejoined with Buick 6 for “Little Rock Star” and AC/DC cover “It’s A Long Way To The Top.” The crowd loved it; from the kid who barely looked old enough for a learner’s permit to the lady with an oxygen tank strapped to her backpack, no one left disappointed–except maybe about the fact that Lucinda wasn’t in town every night.

If this is what happiness sounds like on Lucinda Williams, then I’m all for it.

  1. Lynn
    March 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I love Lucinda Williams. Her voice is a kick in the ass. Thanks for the review.

    I have no idea why it took 20 years (personal story there?) but “Circles and X’s” (despite the title) was one of my favorite songs on her last album.

  2. Dan Milliken
    March 6, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    “Her voice is a kick in the ass.”

    Ha! I agree.

    Another great review, Juli. Way to represent country fans in the D.C. area, word up!

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