Sunday 11th November 2012
Lucinda Williams can rock out with the best of them. “I’m 57 but I could be 7 years old” she sings tonight.
But with half an hour of heavy drumming and feedback soaked guitar workouts to rival any young rock guns at the close of this set, not to mention sex laden lyrics, she could have sung that she was 17 years old.
This was pure turned up rock, with songs evoking drunken binges, messy one night stands and dreams of playing electric guitars loud (a notion referred to in more than one of her songs).
Yet Lucinda Williams, for those that don’t know her (and plenty don’t, the Hall was only about two thirds full last night), is not a jazz artist at all. She is not a rock artist either. Country blues is perhaps the most apt description. But really, as she has mentioned often in interviews, she defies labelling.
And the start of Sunday’s set was in the main, a great example of her eclectic diversity, at times even seeming appropriate to a jazz festival, with the excellent acoustics of the theatre totally appropriate.
Lucinda opened solo with acoustic guitar singing the great folksy Lake Charles, followed by the soft country track Greenville (both from her 1998 breakthrough, Grammy winning album Car Wheels on A Gravel Road), with Lucinda now joined by the wondrous named guitar player Doug Pettibone providing slide flourishes.
With bass player David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton completing the band, Lucinda, in her unique bourbon soaked vulnerable yet powerful voice sang the opening lines to Blue: “Go find a jukebox and see what a quarter will do….”
Evoking so much about the power of music, this was also a signal of the mix of styles that laid ahead and the breadth of quality she drew on from across her back catalogue (she was voted America’s best songwriter in 2002 by Time and over her two nights residency at the Festival Hall this weekend only repeated three songs)..
Amongst the more quiet county, folk and blues songs tonight were notable jazzy influenced numbers such as Copenhagen, Overtime and the almost Doors’ Riders in the Storm jazz like leanings of Are you Down.
Adept in every style, the band put on a formidable show of talent, notably drummer Norton, deftly handling soft brush strokes and modern jazz fills.
But the last half hour was all about rock, with exploding guitars and Norton now pounding his skins so hard he even broke one stick completely in half.
Perhaps the band’s lack of comfort in the venue, because of its inappropriateness to the barrage of tracks basking in sex drugs and rock n roll that closed the set, might explain why the songs tended to end abruptly once they hit their groove.
But Unsuffer me, much more powerful than its album version, here bereft of strings and back to raw basics, burst with blistering guitar after each chorus. And Come On saw Lucinda roar out the chorus’s ultimate put down – “You didn’t even make me, come on” above an almighty clash of electric guitars, bass and drums.
This isn’t the kind of music one sits and politely listens too as the Royal Festival Hall restricts you to doing. Lucinda even apologised for the venue’s constraints and lack of bar inside.
But despite the lack of room to dance, this was a night of high quality varied mature music from a 57 year old going on 17.