Tuesday, Sept. 30
Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh
Last night at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium, Lucinda Williams was in a good mood: She danced with the band, marveled at how good her voice sounded from the old Raleigh stage, and urged the audience to vote in November.
"I detest apathy," she said near the end of her set. "I think apathy is the kiss of death."
Williams dedicated her last song, "Get Right with God," one of several she lifted from 2001's Essence for the night, to bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. He recently endorsed Barack Obama for president. Drawing laughter and applause from the crowd, Williams said she wished Stanley had been at the table with her when a dinner guest told her he didn't like Obama or John McCain but loved Sarah Palin.
"He's not even concerned about the issues; he just thinks she's cool—and he's not even going to vote," she said, sounding genuinely exasperated.
Not even an anniversary-song request threw off Williams last night, though. After reading a slip of bright-green paper at her feet, she gave the plea some thought, and said, "This next one probably wouldn't be good" before playing "Jailhouse Tears," a song she sang as a duet with Elvis Costello on her upcoming record, Little Honey. Although the song hasn't been released, the lyrics of mischief and heartbreak drew instant recognition.
"I just went to the corner to get a six-pack," sang guitarist Doug Pettibone, playing Costello's part for the night. "You're a drunk, you're a stoner. You're never coming back," Williams answered, to the crowd's delight.
Williams eventually atoned, dedicating two new songs to the anniversary couple: the rollicking "Honey Bee" (a song for when you first met, she explained) and "Knowing," a quiet ballad. She saved the latter for the encore, saying, "This is the song I've been putting off to do."
"Come On" was another crowd-pleaser, but the song's echoing chorus didn't translate well to the stage, where William's voice often favored the guttural over the serene, a line she so deftly walks in the studio. She gave several older songs—"Joy" and "Changed the Locks"—the Bob Dylan treatment, altering the pacing and voicing at whim. For "Joy," which became a fast-paced rap and incorporated Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" riff, the revisions worked. "Changed the Locks," a pretty song about vindication, lost its juxtaposition and became flat and angry.
Williams dedicated most of her encore to covers, reworking other's songs in remarkable ways: She tackled Fats Domino ("I Live My Life"), Skip James ("Hard Times Killing Floor Blues") and, finally, in a glorious moment of unabashed, downbeat-heavy rock 'n roll, AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top." Indeed, she was most comfortable with a guitar in her hand. After starting her set without one, she switched from an acoustic to a silver-glitter Telecaster for the heavier songs. Even though ballads like "Steal Your Love," and a slowed-down "Concrete and Barbed Wire" sounded better, up-tempo versions of songs like "Essence" and "Out of Touch" were more fun.
"We're going to rock out a little now," Williams said before "Essence." Swaying, clapping and even doing a bit of duck-walking, that's exactly what she did.
2. I Live My Life (Fats Domino cover)
3. Hard Time Killing Floor Blues (Skip James cover)
4. It's a Long Way to the Top (AC/DC cover)