Lucinda Williams Charms Seattle’s Neptune Theatre, With Miranda Lambert Looking On
In many ways, the careers of Miranda Lambert and Lucinda Williams have been divergent. Lambert burst into prominence on a televised talent show before she was old enough to drink, and is now inarguably country music’s most celebrated female star at the age of 31. Meanwhile, Williams’ success was hard-earned, as she struggled to make ends meet as a songwriter before breaking through with Car Wheels on a Gravel Road in her early forties. This past Sunday, Lambert’s latest album won a Grammy, while Williams’ superb double LP was inexplicably left off the list of nominees, and while Lambert prepares to play before tens of thousands at the massive Tacoma Dome on Friday, Williams played before an appreciative room of a thousand at a refurbished cinema in Seattle’s funky University District last night.
The show was wonderful, and Lambert knows it. She was there, and looked downright thrilled to be in Williams’ presence as the two shared war stories and guzzled red wine (Miranda may have been drinking beer; it was late) in the Neptune Theatre’s cramped backstage quarters. Their interaction had the air of a gifted minnow paying tribute to the mother-fish; had Lu not spent years swimming upstream in a mucho macho pond, the waters wouldn’t be so placid for Miranda today.
It’s problematic to say that Williams is in the midst of a career renaissance, because that would suggest that she’d fallen into a prolonged artistic rut, which simply isn’t the case. But it’s no stretch to say that she’s recording and performing at a higher level than she has in roughly a decade. Fans of her erstwhile lead guitarist, Doug Pettibone, can be encouraged by the fact that Lu’s finally found an ax man who’s his equal in Stuart Mathis, best known for his work with The Wallflowers. Riffing in lockstep with bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton, Mathis twisted “Foolishness” into a quasi-disco number, and injected some flamenco flavoring into the typically temperate “Are You Down.” The rugged, ebullient Norton, who’s always among the most enjoyable parts of any Williams concert, wore a white cowboy hat, white dress shirt, black vest, and black dress shorts, acting as a sort of paler, refracted Pharrell.
Bad songs are not something Williams writes, but “Honey Bee” is probably among her weaker links. Last night, however, her sidemen set it ablaze. Acting as similarly fertile beds for such improvisational heights were “Unsuffer Me” and, of course, the orgasmic “Joy,” which preceded “Get Right With God” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” in a righteous double-encore. Make no mistake about it: Lucinda is back, even if she never really left in the first place.
Blessed, Drunken Angel, I Lost It, West Memphis, Cold Day in Hell, Compassion, Lake Charles, Bus to Baton Rouge, Are You All Right?, Are You Down, Foolishness, I Changed the Locks, Protection, Real Live Bleeding Fingers, Unsuffer Me, Essence, Honey Bee
Encore: I Lived My Life (Fats Domino Cover), Joy, Get Right With God, Rockin’ in the Free World