Sunday, January 20, 2013
Concert review: Lucinda Williams plays by her own rules at Kessler show in Dallas
The alt-country singer gave a final encore that finished hot.
OAK CLIFF Like a character in one of her songs, Lucinda Williams has an obsessive love-hate relationship with lots of things in life -- including Nashville.
On the on hand, the singer positively beamed Friday night at the Kessler Theater as she described how her new tune “Bitter Memory” landed in the ABC series Nashville. But as she often does in concert, Williams slammed Music City execs for rejecting her songs over the years as too explicit and quirky to fit strict NashVegas formulas.
Of course, their loss is our gain. What made the two-hour concert tick was the slow, casual way her songs unfolded until they felt like gothic Southern mantras instead of just more ear candy to fill a country radio playlist.
Rather than bring her full band, she performed as a duo with longtime guitarist Doug Pettibone, giving the show a sense of intimacy well suited for the small Kessler Theater -- “one of my favorite venues,” she said. Pettibone’s rich, echoey electric guitar contrasted nicely with Williams’ fragile quaver of a voice and spun a trance-like effect in “Overtime,” “Fruits of My Labor,” and “The Night’s Too Long.”
But the duo format also magnified the flaws in Williams’ voice, which sounded more-than-a-bit ragged at times -- the result, perhaps, of late-night celebrations in Austin the night before that she told the audience about. If nothing else, the Austin trip provided her with an amusing tale about an overzealous fan who ripped off her purse.
Williams tested out several new tunes, including “Port Arthur,” a haunting lullaby sung from the viewpoint of Janis Joplin, who brags: “My soul is older than God.” She and Pettibone also showed a flair for giving old songs new life. Switching from acoustic to electric guitar, she helped Pettibone transform “Joy” into a Black Keys-style raveup, while “Honey Bee” rattled and roared like the Who circa Live at Leeds.
But the best reinvention came during the final encore of “Get Right with God” featuring the show’s opening act, the Kenneth Brian Band. Repeating the chorus over and over, “God” turned into a marathon Delta blues incantation and the perfect white-hot sendoff for fans headed out into the cold night.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas freelance writer.
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