Lucinda Williams takes on Lowell

A review of Lucinda Williams at the Lowell Summer Music Series on July 12, 2008

, Staff Writer

Angry Lucinda Williams is much more interesting than sad Lucinda Williams, and that was made official in Lowell on Saturday night, where the roots rocker took some time off from supporting John Mellencamp to play an intimate, satisfying show of her own.

The scene was idyllic, with a gentle breeze blowing over the beautiful confines of Boarding House Park, sun setting in the background as Lucinda and her band played under a simple yet elegantly constructed steel stage. And for the first part of the show the band was nothing more than a part of the scene.

Songs like “Reason to Cry” and “Blue” were somber and lilting, not that there’s anything wrong with that in itself, but every song was played in the same slow tempo with the same subdued delivery. To top it off, the lyrics of songs like “Fruits of My Labor” were all imagery fragments, with linear narratives or anything to grasp on to nowhere to be found.

As Williams and company eased into the show it gave the audience time to absorb the atmosphere, from the historic brick mill buildings to the immaculately cared for grounds. Boarding House Park is truly a one of a kind venue, and even more impressive than all of that is the sound, which was flawless, spatially balanced, and featuring a gentle wash of reverb from the buildings which enclosed the park. Basically it was the exact opposite of Lupo’s.

The band began to show signs of life on “Tears of Joy” from Lucinda’s forthcoming album, which will be released in September. The lead guitar player layed down some impressive blues licks that nicely conveyed the contrast of the title, and the whole band got a little bit loud before constructing an actual live fade-out.

“2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten” was probably the low point of the night, as it took the drummer three tries to get the song started, only to have it derailed again by Lucinda’s coughing fit, after which she said, “Maybe this is God’s way of saying we shouldn’t do this song.” That was quickly followed by the turning point of the concert, the fiery “Out of Touch”. The sun had just set and the wind picked up just in time to coincide with a hard guitar jam that rocked like a Neil Young song as Lucinda and the band apparently decided that the warmup was over.

Next up was another new song “Little Rock Star”, sealing the deal on the new album, which sounds like it will be a bit on the aggressive side. The song is a sort of cautionary tale, featuring the lyrics, “Hey little rock star / Why don’t you see / This is not all that / It’s cracked up to be”, and the message was amplified by a steady, prolonged tom rumble build up that led to an early crashing climax before resettling for a solo acoustic verse. The line “To toss it away like that would be such a shame,” but the band did not toss away the momentum that had been building, instead capping everything off with a fuzz drenched solo for a fairly perfect take on the song.

New stuff kept on coming, with the Johnny B. Good sounding melody of “Real Love”, which was also a fitting guitar showcase. Then things turned a bit hairy, as one fan decided it would be a good idea to yell “Play some Pink Floyd” at Lucinda, who responded with an un-family friendly rant in front of the largely family audience, saying, “You don’t understand what it’s like up here when someone yells something stupid like ‘Play some Pink Floyd.’ Fucking leave. If you don’t want to hear it then fucking leave. You think it’s easy doing this?”

That anger definitely bled into the Sympathy-stomp of “Righteously”, which featured a nice guitar flanger effect, some cooking solos, and a big rock ending. A sinewy run through the Police flavored “Are You Down” was next, allowing the lead guitar player to continue to steal the show and get his Santana on. Lucinda then picked up an electric of her own to take on “Come On” in a version that was all rock and no roots, especially during the open hi-hat chorus.

A sharp “Honey Bee” led into main set closer “Joy”, a dirty, angry blues carried by nice use of the maracas. The song built into a dual guitar jam with riffs of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” thrown in, progressing into a double time feel then taking everything back down for a bass groove that turned into The Door’s “Riders on the Storm”. After Lucinda did a capable Jim Morrison impression it all came back together for some more “Joy” before the band left the stage.

Williams returned alone for “Bone of Contention”, which was acoustic but still bore the attitude of her recent electrified set. Everyone came back for “Unsuffer Me”, which has suffering all over its guitar sound and featured some great use of feedback as well as a quick “Dirty Water” tease at the end of the song.

Before the show closer Williams apologized for her earlier outburst, saying, “Okay y’all, sorry about the little meltdown earlier. Sometimes that happens, but this song will help explain it. It’s the quintessential rock and roll song.” That song was not hers, but instead AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way to the Top” done with a small rootsy tinge, an excellent choice to end the night.

The show was undoubtedly different things for different people. Some may have preferred the earlier, subdued portion of the show. Others were caught up in the aggressive second half. The show had something for everyone, maybe not in a way that necessarily made everyone happy all the time, but that’s not what an artist should be doing anyway. Williams and her band rocked more than capably and gave us some impressive hints at what’s on her new album. With all of that, who needs Pink Floyd?

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