Lucinda Williams Rocks the Troubadour

by Steve Spohn
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LucindaTroubadour SongMango.com_edited-1I like performers who walk onstage, don’t look at or even acknowledge the audience and get right down to playing music. They are focused, no-nonsense musicians, and Lucinda Williams falls firmly into that mindset. She definitely came ready to play when she arrived at the 400-capacity Troubadour in West Hollywood last week.

A haunting, immensely emotional singer and brilliant songwriter – with ties to the music meccas of New Orleans, Austin and Nashville (primarily) – Lucinda has a voice colored with a rich, hot Southern tang that fits her songs of love’s despair, and personal freedom and hardship perfectly. She can be as soothing as the morning sun or be as sharp-tongued as razor-wire. Her emotional pool is as wide and deep as any I’ve heard.

The Troubadour in West Hollywood

The Troubadour in West Hollywood

Lucinda is a songwriters’ songwriter. Why more people haven’t covered her work is beyond me. She can turn a phrase with the best of them – a poet in the true sense of the word. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody since her very recently departed father was Stanley Miller Williams, a heralded American poet best known for reading a piece of his work, titled “Compassion,” at President Clinton’s 1997 inauguration. Reportedly Lucinda started writing songs when she was 6 and was playing guitar by 12. And she’s still out taking her cuts at 62.

Here are the show highlights as I saw them (see full setlist at bottom).

The first half of the set was softer, more acoustic-based work featuring Lucinda with a guitar and without. “Protection” from her new album, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, was the second song and she seemed to still be a bit on edge, but in a good way. Her ruffled state seemed to bring some extra intensity. Here’s a recent version of the song from a radio show in Washington State:

Here’s the studio version of “Protection”:

“Drunken Angel,” five songs into the show, is where she hit full stride, and blistered it as only Lucinda can do. This number – about a magical guitar player and lover who drinks way too much – is high up on most everyone’s favorite song list, as well my own. She sang it perfectly. I still can’t believe this song – with the feel of a rock-arena anthem – didn’t run up the charts. Here’s an older version of the tune:

Here’s the studio version of “Drunken Angel” off Car Wheels On A Gravel Road:

Now fully in her groove, Lucinda rolled on with a new song based loosely on the poem “Compassion” her Dad read at Clinton’s second inauguration. She worked in some lines from the poem as well as used her father as inspiration for the final version. The title of her new album (Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone) is derived from this song. It’s a great double album that stands up to everything she has ever done.

Here’s “Compassion” live:

By the time she got to “Essence,” a grinder about heroin, Lucinda was feeling great – and she said as much to the crowd. Everybody in the room was incredibly appreciative and continued to rock out to her red-hot performance.

Here’s “Essence” from the floor of the Troubadour on February 25, 2015:

The studio version of “Essence” off Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone:

At this point, Lucinda addressed all of us in the audience, saying the band had gotten snarled in traffic and arrived at the venue late, and that she was extremely tense. But the stage heals as every artist will tell you. The full exhale. It’s her humility and vulnerability, which she shares openly, that makes Lucinda a super star. She is as authentic as they come. The traffic story was vintage Lucinda.

The place continued to romp with the defiant and vengeful “Joy” – anybody who’s had love gone bad can relate to it. Then onto the raging sting of “Honey Bee,” appropriately off her 2008 album Little Honey. The guitar play doesn’t get much dirtier than this:

Even in the studio “Honey Bee” captures the manic delirium of love’s sting (or at least the sting of great sex):

She opened the encores with a few classic covers, including Fats Domino, Neil Young and AC/DC. Lucinda loves the Troubadour and it showed. She did a great job with “It’s A Long Way To The Top.” If anybody knows how long and far it truly is to get to the top, it’s Lucinda Williams. She’s logged some serious miles. It was a fantastic show from a great artist, who keeps the Rock-N-Roll torch lit for fans everywhere. She’s a national treasure.

Here’s “It’s a Long Way To the Top” from the Troubadour, February 25, 2015:

Lucinda Williams – February 25, 2015 at the Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA
LucindaWilliamsTroubador SongMango.com(on stage at 9:56pm)
Something Wicked
Protection
Right in Time
People Talkin
Drunken Angel
Burning Bridges
Compassion
Hickory Wind
Side of the Road
West
Cold Day in Hell
Are You Down?
Out of Touch
Foolishness
Unsuffer Me
Essence
Joy
Honey Bee

I Live My Life
Hot Blood
It’s a Long Way To The Top

It’s Not My Cross To Bear
Rockin in the Free World
(off the stage at 12:07 a.m.)

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at SSpohn@SongMango.com.

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