Lucinda Williams: Tipsy But Not Phoning It In at Prospect Park
Lucinda Williams was wasted last night. Then again, that’s her vocal shtick – that low, raspy drawl always sounds like she’s half in the bag. The giveaway at her Prospect Park Bandshell show was the looseness, the long jams that her fantastic band burned through (and sometimes didn’t seem sure about where Williams wanted to wrap them up), and when she talked to the audience. At least she threw a shout to Bernie Sanders into her ramble, which drew the most applause of the evening – until she lit into an ill-advised encore of Neil Young’s Keep on Rocking in the Free World, complete with Bon Jovi-style backing vocals, anyway. But the crowd loved that too.
And the boozy, dissociative approach worked. Williams may have had a cheat sheet held together with binder clips, but she wasn’t phoning anything in. When she finally got to Essence, the “I’ve been waiting in this bar” part of that big, gorgeous chorus was pure, straight-up authenticity. Likewise, the cynical TMI of Those Three Days, its wounded narrator snarling about“You found a hole and then you came.”
They opened with a stark, almost otherwordly, Howlin Wolf-inspired Something Wicked This Way Comes. Brilliant lead guitarist Stuart Mathis’ searing, blues-infused lines on Righteously evoked peak-era Mick Taylor, then bassist David Sutton built to a stomping conclusion with some neat chordal work. Then Mathis went into acidic swamp-rock mode for Buttercup, where he stayed for most of the set, beyond his sparsely jangly twelve-string lines on Drunken Angel.
Arguably the best song of the night was a new one, the bitterly swaying adolescent alienation anthem West Memphis, from Williams’ double-cd set Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. The biggest hit of the night, at least til the FM radio rock covers of the encore, was a crushing doom-metal version of Unsuffer Me, so slow that it raised the question of whether the band had resurrected an obscure number by Black Sabbath or Sleep.
By the time the band got to Lake Charles, Williams was the picture of forlornness, abandoned and forsaken and drowning her sorrows. Then the songs got even sadder with the the vamping 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten. From there, the band picked up the pace with a slinky take of Are You Down, part early Tom Petty, part Santana, drummer Butch Norton dueling it out with Mathis during a lively, latin-flavored doublespeed jam. After that, a new one, Foolishness, made a platform for more jamming and randomly caustic commentary on current events, Williams defiantly telling the crowd one thing that freedom means to her is that she can drink and drug however much she feels like.
Later numbers included another new one, Protection, which wasn’t much more than a one-chord jam; Get Right with God, which was more blues than gospel; and an expansive, rather haphazard, bluesily swaying take of Joy. This year’s schedule of free outdoor shows at the Prospect Park Bandshell includes movies and plenty of other stuff besides just music, which as usual is a mixed bag. The next really enticing concert there is on July 10 at 7 PM with popular, humorous, brass-fueled Argentine ska-punk band Los Autenticos Decadentes.