Despite several failed attempts in Sydney, I’ve never seen Lucinda Williams live. When she released her new album, West, and announced dates at Portland and Seattle, the opportunity was too good to miss. So with our friend Julie from Sydney, we headed down to Portland for the Sunday night gig.
The crowd was growing restless about 9.40pm when the four-piece band came on stage. The concert started promisingly, rolling through renditions of some of the best songs from the last few albums. Drunken Angel and Right in Time all stood out in my memory for raw and powerful renditions.
It was an hour or so before any songs off West emerged. And as the band’s tempo and energy picked up, it was becoming increasingly apparent that they weren’t in the mood for performing the sorrowful, haunting songs from that album. Come On, Unsuffer Me and Wrap Your Head Around That followed in quick succession. But that was it for the album.
Then an odd moment happened. It seems some of the reviews about the somewhat dark (but to me quite brilliant) material on West might have taken their toll. Lucinda described how she was happy now, newly engaged and, reading between the lines a little, didn’t seem to like her labeling as a writer of sorrowful and confessional songs. So with the volume on the amps turned up to 11, she blasted out a new song, Honey Bee, about the new man in her life. To be honest, I thought it was awful. A simple little rock ditty that I could hear played by a local band of 21 year olds in my local bar.
In total the band played for 2 hours. Especially in the numerous encore’s, they played some excellent rock and blues, although it did occasionally have a self-indulgent feel to it. A couple of songs simply fizzled out, as if no one in the band could quite figure out how to coordinate an ending.
I wandered out with mixed feelings into the cool Portland evening. It had been a good show, some classic songs and skilled musicianship to admire. But it wasn’t the show I’d expected or wanted to see. If I want to see a rock or blues band, I’ll go and see a really good one somewhere.
I go to see Lucinda Williams to hear her rasping voice interpret the beautiful lyrics she writes, and be taken on journey through the songs of one of the finest songwriters around. A journey of light and shade, subtlety and power, sorrow and joy. But this was a rollercoaster ride that left little time for contrasts.
There’s lots of good rock and blues bands out there, but there’s only one Lucinda Williams. We came out west to see the latter, but I doubt it was the best that it can be. I’ll keep trying though.