reCAP :: LUCINDA WILLIAMS and her band BUICK 6 :: 2019.09.20 :: The Capitol Theatre

Oct 21  / Monday

Words by Chad Berndtson

In “Delta Nights,” Bill Buford’s acclaimed profile of Lucinda Williams that ran in The New Yorker in 2000 and was later anthologized, Buford writes lovingly about the challenge of characterizing Williams’ music. In one of the profile’s many memorable turns of phrase, longtime Williams champion Hobart Taylor says, “Don’t even go there. It’s a trap.” 

There’s something to that—writers have for decades now been twisting themselves up in knots trying to explain the potency of Williams’ lived-in Americana, with its blotches and snatches of blues, rock ’n’ roll, country, folk and plenty of other strains. We can at least agree on one thing: when you acquire a taste for it and are in a mood to hear it, almost nothing else will do. The hard-bitten charisma, the intensely felt lyricism, the guts and grit in the music itself, even the playfulness and winking charm in some of it—it knocks you right over, man.

Lucinda Williams at the Cap? Now, there’s an idea. Williams at the Cap primed to do a full-on play-through of “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” her seminal 1998 album, plus another hour’s worth of choice cuts from throughout her catalog and covers repertoire? That’s going to leave an audience thoroughly spent, in the way the deepest-cutting music shared in a communal atmosphere can. And it did. And it was something.

The main set comprised the “Car Wheels” material, and this was no workmanlike run-through. Williams frequently paused between tunes to offer a considered memory, or talk through how a certain song’s meaning had evolved over time, or just to have a kid and chuckle with her ace band, Buick 6—as ever, super, with guitarist Stuart Mathis adding just the right touch and the rhythm section taut, yet yielding. These songs don’t quite sound like they did back then; for one thing, Williams’ already-nonpareil voice has that much more oak and sandpaper in it, over 20 years later. No, they sound somehow richer, their battles hard-won, their narratives — the tender “Lake Charles,” the broken soul of “Greenville,” the yearning in “Drunken Angel,” the gospel in “Jackson” — that much more fully felt. And the band—once again, the band!—choogling through “Can’t Let Go,” strutting through “Concrete and Barbed Wire,” every song an example of something a well-honed road band does when it’s, well, honed. 

Two lengthy encores saw Williams and team open up all over her catalog, as if affirming everything she’d learned, and still was seeking to learn, since “Car Wheels.” Standouts included Williams solo acoustic for “The Ghost of Highway 20,” the more recent “Foolishness,” which built to a shattering climax, and then a gospel-heavy finale of “Faith and Grace,” “Get Right With God,” and a version of “Righteously” that drifted into Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side.” As ever, it was Williams who generously yielded the floor to her band and warmly praised her audience. As ever, it was Williams who owned the stage, her charms unique, and impossible to distract from.