LSD: (L)ucinda Williams, (S)teve Earle, (D)wight Yoakam in Nashville
The thing one notices about Nashville these days is the confusing amount of construction and the cranes that litter its skyline. So it was quite a juxtaposition to drive into a town with near empty streets, deserted by any reasonable standard. Yes, I know the public schools had just replenished their stock of students, but still it was a bit eerie.
But not so at the Ascend Amphitheater that hosted the LSD show this past Sunday evening. It brimmed with cowboy-themed boots, hats, halter tops, and $7 bottles of water, along with long lines at the merch tent and lots of good cheer.
Also in attendance at the show was my friend and fellow ND columnist Chris Griffy, and he graciously agreed to share his thoughts on the evening. Two takes — dissimilar, alike, contradictory? We’ll find out together as I did not read his before doing mine. Now, here’s my take, followed by his.
Anger, Artistry and Jubilation
Steve Earle is an angry man. Yes, I know there is a lot to be angry about, but Earle seems to be permanently pissed off. He’d be right at home in a John Osborne play. He’s also bored. He looked bored, acted bored, sounded bored. Maybe it was the result of fatigue from having just returned form a European tour. His redemption is his take on politics and strength of songwriting, and on this night Chris Masterson’s searing, scorching guitar on “Hey Joe,” along with the rest of the band. It was the most thrilling version since Hendrix. Or, at least my memory of Hendrix.
Lucinda Williams is grace and artistry personified. Her kindness, attentiveness, diligence, sensitivity, and sense of justice are without compare. She also just happens to continue to be the best songwriter working in any genre and has a band so tight and steady that they are of one mind. I had two special moments. First, in “Righteously” when David Sutton slid one of the bass lines into Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” Lu turned to him in appreciation, my spine tingled. Second, her rap-like vocal in “Joy” and by the song’s end guitarist Stuart Mathis turned it into a slow, burning blues. It sucked the air out of my lungs.
While Earle and Williams’ sets were both well-received, it was evident the moment he took the stage the night belonged to Dwight Yoakam. He came on like a star, the audience erupted, lights flashed and his band looked and played like the young Buckaroos. With his cowboy hat hanging adorably low, the ability to swivel his body on a dime and that one-in-a-million honky tonk voice with a twinge of a certain high lonesomeness, Yoakam sealed the deal. After beginning with a couple of newer songs, and talk of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Bakersfield and a Chris Stapleton collaboration, it was non-stop guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With the audience singing along with nearly every number, it was party time. Security had a difficult time keeping people in their seats.
The trio encore was “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” that’s been revived in recent years. While it became a honky tonk favorite in the 1950s, few folks know it was first recorded as bluegrass by Flatt and Scruggs. With a hint of Fall in the air, it was a nice way to send us off into the night. Dead tired, I then lingered over a Martini at the hotel bar just a couple of blocks away.
My first impression of the LSD tour’s visit to Nashville was surprise. It was a much more casual audience than I’m accustomed to seeing from Americana acts. Whether that was the outdoor venue, the fact that the show was included in Live Nation’s “$20 All In” promotion from a while back, I don’t know. But the crowd was definitely more inclined toward the bigger name (Dwight Yoakam), the bigger hits, and talking through the rest of the show.
For me, Steve Earle’s show was a long overdue chance for him to redeem himself. I’m ashamed to say I only saw Steve once before, in the late ’90s, and he was bad. Really bad. But I’ve been told by enough of my Americana friends that, since Earle got clean, he’s been great live. Those friends were right. Earle’s setlist was perfect for such a casual crowd, with “Copperhead Road” and “Devil’s Right Hand” getting the most applause. Earle was also the most politically charged of the night, with a number of comments about walls, inauguration crowd sizes, and immigrants that went over surprisingly well in deep red Tennessee. But the real highlight of Earle’s set was The Mastersons. Chris Masterson on guitar and Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and vocals were both absolutely on point.
Being in such a casual crowd made any fair review of Lucinda Williams’ set difficult from the grass seats. The quietest of the three artists performing, Williams’ vocals sometimes got lost in the sea of people chatting or grabbing beer. What I did hear was right up my alley. While not as casual as the chatterboxes around me, I’m an extremely casual Lucinda fan among Americana devotees. And one of the two of her albums I consider essential, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, is turning 20 this year, so Williams leaned heavily on it for her hour-long set, with the title track, “Drunken Angel,” “Lake Charles,” and “Joy” being the highlights for me.
Once Dwight Yoakam took the stage, there was no doubt who the majority of the crowd was there to see. The most commercially successful of the three, Yoakam sprinkled hits like “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Fast as You” with a heavy dose of covers, hitting Chuck Berry, Elvis, Johnny Horton, and of course, Buck Owens before closing out the night with Joe and Rose Lee Mathis’ “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” with Williams and Earle joining him on stage because, according to Yoakam, “They don’t get to quit work before I do…”
Now onto those photos and a note. I was restricted to the soundboard, so no close-ups or even medium shots. However, one photo lent itself to being cropped and used as the lead.