|Lucinda Williams Oct. 19 at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg. Photo provided by Tracy May.|
Lucinda Williams made it worth the wait.
When she returned to Jannus Live for her first Tampa Bay performance since 2004 the alt-country queen seemed to determined to make every song an emotional wallop.
As a cool, welcome breeze made its way through downtown St. Petersburg and blew back Williams’ blonde bangs she sang with measured passion, giving each compelling lyric ample care, as if reliving the moment of its creation.
The multiple Grammy winner considered one of the greatest songwriters alive showed she’s also an outstanding performer.
Williams played for about two hours, judiciously choosing songs ranging from her 1988 self-titled masterpiece to her excellent new album “Blessed.” A freshly penned unreleased song and three choice covers made for wonderful surprises. Blake Mills (electric guitar), David Sutton (bass) and Butch Norton (drums) provided spot-on accompaniment.
Dressed in black jeans and a dark top, Williams wielded an acoustic guitar and opened the show with a barn burning rendition of “Can’t Let Go,” off her 1998 breakthrough album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.”
She then went back a decade for the sweet ode to having good times with her brother in the “Crescent City.” She returned to “Car Wheels” several times to start the show before delivering a chilling version of the album's most powerful number, “Drunken Angel.”
The song is a tribute to Austin-based singer/songwriter Blaze Foley. He was shot to death after a barroom brawl. Merle Haggard and others would later record Foley’s ballad “If I Could Only Fly.”
Williams sang each line like she was offering a prayer to her old pal:
“Blood spilled out from the hole in your heart / Over the strings of your guitar / The worn down places in the wood / That once made you feel so good.”
Williams then said, “Here’s a new song that will be on my next album.” A country rocker with a dollop of funk “Stowaway in Your Heart,” is a beautiful love letter to manager/husband Tom Overby goosed by a killer slide solo by Mills, a young L.A. artist who has a huge future ahead of him.
The lyric stand came in handy on “Stowaway” and a couple others, but did nothing to hinder her performance. I’ll take the cheat sheet and know that every word is right, thank you very much. It’s not like Williams has ever been known to dance around on stage.
Next came “Side of the Road.” It first appeared on Williams’ self-titled album and remains her finest lyric. The song puts you inside the head of a person filled with passion for another but unable to commit. It’s a common enough theme but never written about with such a smart metaphor marked by rich details; or sung with such a tone of resigned melancholy. Williams performed it solo Wednesday, each word a tender reminder that nothing in life or love is black and white:
“If I stray too far from you, don’t go and try and find me / It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it doesn’t mean I won’t come back and stay beside you / It only means I need a little time / To follow that unbroken line.”
Williams continued in catharsis mode with the heartbreaking “Blue” before letting the band rip while singing her other hubby song “Born to Be Loved.” She ditched the guitar and clutched the mic with both hands, swaying softly in time as her fellow musicians took turns soloing.
Williams then unveiled her gripping rendition of Bob Dylan’s mortality hymn “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” which she recorded for an upcoming Amnesty International benefit album.
The band jammed hard and Williams sung with a sexy snarl on “Steal Your Love,” “Buttercup,” and then spit out the words to her classic kiss-off “Changed the Locks.”
“Thank you for coming out during these hellacious economic times and spending your hard-earned money,” she said as the crowd showered her with applause. Williams then dedicated the blues stomp “Joy” to the “99 percenters” holding the spread-the-wealth “occupy” protests nationwide.
After performing the title track to her new album she left the stage briefly and then returned with a faithful rendition of the early Allman Brothers Band gem “Not My Cross to Bear” before leading the crowd in a spirited sing along of the Buffalo Springfield protest anthem “For What It’s Worth.”
“God bless, power to the people, keep up the fight,” Williams said before exiting.
Here’s to hoping it doesn’t take another seven years for her to visit Tampa Bay. Williams holds a discerning listener rapt like few other performers.
1. “Can’t Let Go” (written by Randy Weeks)
2. “Crescent City”
3. “Right in Time”
4. “Well Well Well”
5. “Concrete and Barbed Wire”
6. “Drunken Angel” (see video shot at Jannus below)
7. “Stowaway In Your Heart”
8. “Side of the Road”
9. “Blue” (see video shot at Jannus below)
10. “Born to Be Loved”
11. “Tryin’ To Get to Heaven” (Bob Dylan cover)
12. “Steal Your Love”
14. “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings”
17. “Changed the Locks”
19. “Honey Bee”
21. “Not My Cross to Bear” (Allman Brothers Band cover)
22. “For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield cover)