Lucinda Williams Still Too Cool to Be Forgotten
Lucinda Williams with Doug Paisley live at Massey Hall – Toronto, ON – Nov. 21, 2014
Right as the clock struck 9 p.m., the grand dame of alt-country strolled to the centre of the stage and picked up her acoustic guitar. Hollers and whistles rained down from Massey’s rafters, while Lucinda Williams started singing “Blessed,” the title cut from her 10th studio album. A few lines in, one by one, her three band members (longtime Wallflowers guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton), who were the stars of this show as much as Williams, joined the Grammy Award-winner. For two hours, with nary a pause, the near sell-out audience was treated to a magical marathon of music that spanned her 30-year career and included four encores. Local singer-songwriter Doug Paisley opened with a tight 30-minute set.
Williams, 61, flipping pages on a songbook centre stage, conducted the show while the boys in her band played on, and on. She gave them ample time to shine, walking to the side of the stage, putting the spotlight on the power trio, who many times showcased their skills with extended jams.
Mixing swampy blues with Southern soul and ample doses of rock, Williams showcased her varied influeces. She also illustrated why her music is loved by so many, including fellow artists. Sitting in my row taking in the show was songwriter Ron Sexsmith and my seatmate was Neil Young’s brother (Bob), sporting a knitted Pittsburgh Steelers’ sweater.
Throughout the set, Williams and her band held the audience in a trance. Songs chosen were a mix of fan favorites (“West Memphis,” “Bus to Baton Rouge,” “Joy,” and “Changed the Locks”), covers of some of her most admired songwriters such as Texan Blaze Foley (“Drunken Angel), and Neil Young, along with a handful of new songs, including: “When I Look at the World,” and “Protection,” from her critically-acclaimed double album (Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone), recently released on her own Highway 20 label. Surprise absentees from the set were current radio single, “Burning Bridges” and the title cut from her 1998 Grammy-winning record Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
As the show neared its end, a spontaneous dance-along took place in the front row, with five women grooving and shaking their hips to “Honey Bee.”
After 90 minutes, Williams left the stage to a standing ovation. Not long after, she and the band returned, all carrying a glass of red wine, offering the Gregg Allman tune (“My Cross to Bear”) as the first of several encores.
A Rousing rendition of Neil Young’s anthem, “Rockin’ in the Free World.” was the finale. With the house lights on, the patrons in Massey were all on their feet singing along for the entire song. Glancing at Bob [Young], I caught a sly smile as he listened to his brother’s composition. As the applause died down, and the final notes were struck, Williams thanked Toronto fans, and left them with this: “I’m so moved. I love Canada! We can take some lessons from your country.”
Like a line from one of the songs she sang earlier in the night, this show proved Lucinda Williams is still “too cool to be forgotten.”