Out of the corner of your eye, it was hard not to notice the extra bounce Lydia Loveless had in her step as she approached the stage from the outside deck of Cat’s Cradle–Back Room. It made sense considering she hasn’t really played live for most of the year. And for the past hour, she had stood up to answer questions following a screening of the new documentary Who is Lydia Loveless?
“This is what I like to do. I’m good at this,” she said with a quiet and modest affirmation born out of the hard work of someone who has been honing their craft for a good decade. The sparse stage and intimate room felt like her natural habitat. And from the opening line of “Really Wanna See You,” it felt like we were hearing some of her most treasured songs sung as if for the first time.
In the documentary, we get a look at the introspective artist as she allows us access into the making of her forthcoming album Real. As the film follows the progression of a new song, her band’s first rehearsal and its recording session a few weeks later, we also get to experience it performed publicly for the first time. Director Gorman Bechard generously profiles each of her band members to get at the chemistry and passion they have in committing to playing behind her and the songs she writes.
Loveless the performer, loose and full of banter in Chapel Hill, was juxtaposed with the film’s subject who had to discuss the documentary after confessing her social anxiety on screen. Early into her solo set, Loveless confides that she wasn’t sure if people would want to hear from her after seeing her for nearly two hours. She insists people get up and stop sitting.
The urgency of “Really Wanna See You” still translated with just a voice and guitar, with Loveless playing out the dramatic mini-movie of lust and love and all of its underlying freneticism. In “To Love Somebody,” she poses the central question “What’s it mean to love somebody?” Repeating it incessantly underscored the central theme and holding a note in the song’s ferocious climatic finale underscored the singer’s desperation and vulnerability. The tender treatment of “Chris Isaak” takes a song about a teenage break-up into something more timeless with the perspective of distance and lessons learned. It’s evidence of an innate instinct and ability for how she can reinterpret her songs, a gift she will no doubt draw on into the future.
In acknowledgement of Prince’s recent death, she delivered a fervent cover of “When U Were Mine,” recalling the inspiration she felt hearing Cyndi Lauper’s cover. She laughingly remembered as a teenager how she couldn’t wait to have her heart broken so she’d know what love felt like. Her pleas are almost wails in this faithful tribute that felt like it would blow the doors wide open. Love is still the drug she’s thinking of, recalling an early adolescent encounter as the basis and metaphor for the album’s new title track Real.
Today the subject of love is inspired in unsuspecting ways. Now living in the suburbs, she recounted being up late one night sitting on her deck in “songwriting mode.” When she looked across another house, she saw someone undressing through a window. It was less a moment about voyeurism than a spark for the song “European” in which the narrator grapples with doubts about her own passion and love’s greater aspirations and promises.
Loveless’ self-deprecating humor is like a shield to mask the deeper feelings rooted in her songs. On this Saturday night, she quizzes the audience about trail baloney in a humorous back-and-forth question and answer session. It turns out it is the venison meat of her native Ohio. Then, after delving into the gripping psychological “Out On Love,” she asks for help her getting through the next song which she says is going to be tough. “Everything’s Gone” is a gut-wrenching autobiographical saga of the despair she felt when her family lost their home and family farm. It’s not something that she often plays and it is arguably her greatest song.
She made it through and had barely come up for air when she closed the set song with “Longer,” a beautiful meditation written in response to the death of her friend. Its subtle bluesy and aching accents were poignant and poetic in all of the song’s solitude.
Tonight’s intimacy seemed like a bonus for all of the people who helped to support the making of Who Is Lydia Loveless?, the set may have had its own therapeutic benefits for the songwriter whose new album is finished but has been mysteriously and interminably delayed. This month marked two years since photographer Agatha Donkar casually mentioned to film director Bechard that there was an under the radar record he needed to hear. It was Somewhere Else by the Columbus singer Lydia Loveless. Sitting in the Cat’s Cradle neither she nor the rest who were gathered could believe that a simple Facebook post launched a thousand (and more) frames.
“I’m Lydia Loveless,” the singer said with a thank you and a wide smile as she finished “Longer” and closed the show.
The question that been posed in the film and hung in the air all night no longer seemed liked it had to be asked.
In the end, the music spoke best. Just like it always does.