It takes some chutzpah to read your lyrics off a music stand. When you've been dubbed "America's Greatest Songwriter" by Time magazine (a publication that's not known for its music criticism, but nonetheless notable in any grand pronouncement) you get such latitude without question though, as country singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams showed at Mesa Arts Center last night.
Wearing red jeans and lace-down black blouse and spikey black hair an inch off her shoulder, the 56-year--old Louisiana native was charmingly nervous addressing the crowd between songs, sharing liner note-style background information like an artist on VH1 "Storytellers." The stripped down show she played wouldn't have sounded out of place in a coffee house, but felt just as intimate in the cavernous but warm theater, which Williams praised for its soft acoustics.
Playing most of her new album, the lovey-dovey Little Honey, while mostly eschewing the decidedly less-cheerful classic, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda sounded tight with her ultra-professional backing band, which opened the show by playing a jammy instrumental set as Buick 6.
The oldish and casually attired crowd was pretty tame - staying in their (incredibly comfortable) seats through most of the show, but pockets of die-hards danced, and every break was punctured by calls for favorite songs. Somewhat strangely, a cover of AC/DC's "Its a Long Way to the Top (If Ya Wanna Rock 'N' Roll" got the biggest reaction of the night. "Right in Time," "Metal FireCracker" or another oldie may have gotten the same, if the reaction to the noisy "Joy" was any indicator, but Williams, who recorded Little Honey after finding herself in love, seemed to be in no mood to tread that ground. The crowd seemed content to let Williams wallow in happiness though, even if she wasn't quite happy enough to play "Passionate Kisses."
"I Just Wanted to See You So Bad"
"Happy Woman Blues"
"I Lost It"
"Circles and X's"
"Tears of Joy"
"Plan to Marry" (all by herself)
"Side of the Road" (with a lone guitar accompanying her)
"Something About What Happens"
"Fruits of My Labor"
"Out of Touch"
"Little Rock Star"
"Real Live Bleeding Fingers"
"Change the Locks"
"It's a Long Way to the Top" (AC/DC cover)
Encore 2:"My Sweet Angel"
Last Night: Lucinda Williams and Buick 6 at Mesa Arts Center.
Better Than: Any other seat in town. Seriously, those super-comfy Mesa Arts Center chairs would make decent living room furniture.
Personal Bias: Car Wheels was the very first record I put in to iTunes on my then-new Mac in 2005.
Random Detail: It was funny to hear the girl going crazy for Buick 6's drummer, Butch Norton. He is a hell of a drummer, but an unlikely object of lust.
Further Listening: My favorite Lucinda song, "Metal Firecracker."
By the Way: Since I attended a crawfish boil Saturday afternoon, I had about as Louisiana a day as you can in Phoenix.
One More Thing: What's up with the roadie in a suit and tie? He made me do a double-take. Who is that dude? Is he some sort of roadie legend?