Sunday, March 25, 2007

Heartless Bastards/Lucinda Williams, Live at Radio City Music Hall, March 23, 2007

What can I say? It was a great show. Lucinda Williams has a phenomenal voice and the venue was incredible. Acoustically, it was one of the most aurally stunning concerts I have ever had the pleasure to attend.

BlogPal Jill and I were sitting in the low rent district:

So, the performers looked like this:

But, hey, I knew when I bought the tickets that I wasn't going to be close. It was all about the music, and the cheap seats made me appreciate the sound in the venue that much better. Below you'll get a taste of the sound if you are brave enough to sit through some YouTube clips, where I butchered the photography (read: focused on the ceiling rather than the stage, duh), yet my camera was able to get some nice audio from the show. The fact that it is even audible is a testament to the greatness of the sound.

The opening act was the Heartless Bastards. They played a nice, compact, 10-song set. I liked them generally, and alluded in a live post that they reminded me of a kind of countryish bluesy White Stripes, but with a female singer. Much has been written about them recently, so I'll skip the details. They were a little rough, which was abundantly clear when Lucinda took the stage and the level of songmanship was so abundantly disparate. But then again, that's why they were an opening act.

Here's their set:

"The Will Song" from the album Stairs and Elevators (2005)

"Done Got Old" (Junior Kimbrough cover) from Stairs and Elevators

"New Resolution" from Stairs and Elevators

"Blue Day" from the album All This Time (2006)

"Came a Long Way" from All This Time

"Into the Open" from All This Time

"Valley of Debris" from All This Time

"Searchin' for the Ghost" from All This Time

(Penultimate song) - Couldn't identify this one. Lead singer Erika Wennerstrom did not introduce any of the songs, so I've had to research based on snippets of lyrics I typed into my blackberry. I got all but this one.

"Runnin" from Stairs and Elevators

Lucinda and her band took the stage at around 9:30 and played until 11:00 PM. The Radio City curfew was strictly enforced.

I'll get the negative out of the way first. The drunk woman sitting three rows behind us was an idiot. And probably still is. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that the band can't hear the stupid things you're yelling from ten rows up in the third mezzanine. This blubbering imbecile kept bellowing "See you Wednesday in Harrisburg!" and "Play from your heart!" Maybe her depth perception was off and she felt she was in the third row and just needed glasses. Ok, we get it lady, you're a fan, you're seeing her again Wednesday, it's not like you're yelling "Play Leash!" at a Pearl Jam concert.

That aside, I had sort of psyched myself up for a lot of her old hits, based on a review I read from a show she did earlier in the month in Orlando. Granted, that show ran an hour longer, and the reviewer remarked on how little of West, her new album, was played. We got the opposite treatment here. Take a look at the setlist:

"Rescue," from West (2007)
"Ventura," from World Without Tears (2003)
"Fruits of My Labor," from World Without Tears
"Drunken Angel," from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
"Lake Charles," from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
"Fancy Funeral," from West
"Pineola," from Sweet Old World (1992)
"Righteously," from World Without Tears
"Essence," from Essence (2001)
"Come On," from West
"Unsuffer Me," from West
"Joy," from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
"Everything Has Changed," from West
"West," from West
"Where Is My Love," from West
"Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" (Skip James cover)

Some of my notes from the show.

After finishing the opening song "Rescue," Lucinda stood staring at the house and remarked
"The sound is just stunning in here." The crowd roared its agreement.

Here's two and a half minutes of "Lake Charles". Just a reminder, don't click to watch, click to listen:

After "Pineola," she introduced the band:

Doug Pettibone, on guitar, harmonica and backing vocals, David Sutton on bass, and Don Heffington on drums.

"Essence" is one of my favorite songs, so I caught the last 2 and a half minutes for posterity. Again, you can't see much, but the music is clear:

After "Essence," she introduced Jenny Scheinman on violin. Ms. Scheinman provided strings on the new album, and remained on stage for the rest of the show. She added another dimension to the band. One of the reviews I read of West, one of the negative ones, faulted the effort for not taking advantage of Ms. Scheinman's talents on the record. The reviewer claimed that her strings were lost in the production. That's one opinion, but they were definitely not lost on the stage at Radio City.

During the first song on which she played, the amazing "Unsuffer Me," Jenny's violin and Pettibone's guitar just wailed and really rocked the house.

The main set ended with "Joy," and Lucinda had Erica from the Heartless Bastards come back out to play with her. The added guitar made the band sound fuller and bluesier. It was quite good.

During the brief break, there was some hollering for one of Lucinda's more popular songs "Changed the Locks". I guessed we would get that or perhaps "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" during the encore. Alas, that was not in the plans.

She threw us three more West songs. They were very good, but I was surprised at this point that the new album was so strongly represented. And the last song was not a big hit. I was going to be unhappy, but then she explained. They ended with a Skip James song, an old blues cover that I had never heard before. Lucinda explained that this was a tune she had performed in Brooklyn at St. Anne's church many years ago for the director Wim Wenders' chapter in the Martin Scorcese-produced PBS documentary on the Blues. The song appeared in the documentary, but not in its entirety, and did not make it to the soundtrack that was released on disc. That's a shame because, I'll tell you, "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" was the coup de grace, a slow-rolling rocker that was just phenomenal, punctuated by some band solos, and a throbbing humming that the audience joined in on. Here's 50 seconds of it:

So, there you have it. Great show. Not perfect, but still seminal. The venue made it more special. Check out Lucinda Williams, if you can, tour dates here.

Lucinda's website here.

New York Newsday's review of the show here.

The New York Sun's discussion of the show here.

Variety has a review, as well, here.