Lucinda Williams graced Louisville with her presence this Friday at the Brown Theater. Justin Lewis, a solo-singer/songwriter with acoustic guitar and a lovely voice opened for Williams, surprising the audience with a guest appearance from Ben Sollee. The duo's cello and guitar accompanied by Lewis' mellow lyrical performance set the mood in the theater: subdued, reflective, tranquil. When the 58-year-old rocker took the stage shortly after the opening act, the restrained ambiance remained.
Williams, now on the other side of middle-aged, appeared much more mature than I'd seen her in the past, reflecting the age group that came out to see her last night. She wore reading glasses and reminded me of Tina Turner with her signature tight jeans and perfectly-messed bob. The set opened with "Just Wanted to See You So Bad" and right out of the gate, her voice was spot-on, ironically polished for it's noted raspy nature. Reading from her music stand, Williams played many songs from her new album, Blessed, including "Buttercup" and "Copenhagan" while narrating the stories behind many of her songs. Older favorites like "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" and a rocking rendition of "Unsuffer Me" were also featured.
Blake Mills, Williams' brand-new guitarist that had only played one other live performance with the seasoned singer, showcased his talent despite the fact he looked about, well, 15. As Lucinda Williams said on stage, "He can play anything!" He easily made his way through slide-guitar blues, Johnny Cash-esque country rhythms, and rock.
The band played beautifully together like a well-oiled machine, but the performance at times seemed formulaic. The talent on stage was obvious, but the raw emotion behind the songs at times was missing. Perhaps it had something to do with the barometric pressure or the dark night, but the feel of the evening was subdued, something was missing. Reserved, silent listening is meant for the home stereo. I've seen her "Rock your face off" as her opening act, Justin Lewis said she'd do, but last night's performance was a bit stale.
Still, to see a classic artist, right up there with the likes of Bonnie Raitt or Emmy Lou Harris, you feel you are in the presence of a true artist. There were times of silent reflection, especially during a heartfelt performance of "To Be Loved" where Williams sang, "You weren't born to be abandoned/ You weren't born to be forsaken/ You were born to be loved." The songwriting, the poetry of it all was inspiring, I just wish the energy matched the expertise.