Lucinda Williams – 7th House (Pontiac, MI)
At this juncture of Lucinda Williams’ career concerts afford not only a chance to hear her perform old favorites, but also the only chance to hear what she’s been up to since she released her last album five years ago. With a new disc delayed by her own insistence on re-recording material, and with her record label (American) having undergone significant downsizing this year, Williams performed a few live dates this fall in the East and Midwest.
Williams and her band — guitarist Duane Jarvis and bassist Richard Price kicked things off with “Pineola”, a song of understated desolation that set the tone for the rest of the 90-minute show. Mixing old favorites with tunes from the eternally imminent Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, Williams never veered far from the sepia-toned, distinctly Southern realism that has marked her career. “Big Red Sun Blues” and “Passionate Kisses” were true to their studio predecessors, while Williams dug a little deeper for “Something About What Happens When We Talk”, stacking harmonies with Price and Jarvis, who added an exceptional guitar solo to end the song.
Still, it was the new tunes that brought real energy to the set. “Drunken Angel” is a mournful lament to a dead friend, while “Lake Charles” examines questions of identity, belonging and death in this tale of a Texan who told people he was from Louisiana. “Joy”, a greasy, one-chord number, is anything but joyous, with Williams insisting that an ex-lover took her joy but that she’s fixin’ to get it back. “Still I Long For Your Kiss” was the prettiest of the newer songs, an ode to obsessive relationships that copped a retro-’50s feel.
For all the depth of Williams’ songs, she seems to show very little emotion as a performer. The material was performed flawlessly and the band — particularly Jarvis, in the way-big shadow of former Williams sideman Gurf Morlix — is sharp, even without drums. Still, there was a distinct lack of emotional contact between Williams and her audience. It was as if the crowd was waiting to be enchanted, yet Williams never seized the opportunity.
Things picked up slightly toward the end of the set with the dark, up-tempo, almost sinister drive of “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” and high-energy readings of “Hot Blood” and “Changed the Locks”, which closed the main body of the set. An initial two-song encore was highlighted by a touching rendition of “Sweet Old World”, during which Williams revealed some of the emotion that appeared to be lacking earlier in the show. But by the second encore, that drive appeared lost as Williams and her band plodded through two blues tunes, including a Memphis Minnie song, both of which appeared to be lost on the audience.