May 2nd, 2011 at 1:38 am
Things changed on Sunday night.
About 1,000 folks were gathered to watch Lucinda Williams perform at the Fayetteville Town Center, a gig that was moved there after the threat of cold rain made the open air Arkansas Music Pavilion venue look less desirable for the evening.
By all accounts, Williams was well on her way to delivering exactly what everyone expected of her: a block of country-tinged songs packed with emotion and evidence of true-to-life heartbreak. Those moments were delivered during cuts such as “Concrete & Barbwire,” “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” and a new song, “Buttercup,” which brought the intensity level to a new peak.
Williams came back from a brief encore to tell the crowd that Osama bin Laden had been killed. She’d learned the news backstage, and with her public announcement, the crowd roared in approval.
This was not some attempt to politicize the concert, nor should this review be read as one, either. News was happening, and I’ll guarantee you this: Those who were there on Sunday will not remember that she played “Pineola” – a tribute to the late Fayetteville poet Frank Stanford – as well as they will remember her announcement, her words and the songs that would follow.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” she told the crowd after she made the announcement. “I feel like I could cry.”
The three-song encore kicked off with a take on “Blessed,” the title track from her newest album. Fittingly, that song tells us of a blessing we receive from “a soldier who gave up his life.” Next was “Joy,” which talks about someone who has stolen joy and a quest to get it back. The final song was a cover song, and one that Williams was familiar with, having recorded it on “Lu in 08.” But it seemed made for a night such as this. It was the protest song “For What’s It Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, and you could hear the energy crackling through the audience during its performance.
The encore wasn’t even the bulk of the show, and mathematically speaking, it was just three of the 20 songs she played during the course of the evening. But it was an exclamation mark on the night, the difference between a very good but somewhat nondescript show and one folks who were there will be talking about for some time.
Credit is due in part to the emotional nature of the situation, but credit must also be given to Williams and her band. Her voice, equal parts husky and bold and dripping with sadness and other emotions, was keen all night. Her band, particularly guitarist Blake Mills and his delicate slide work, was tremendous.
Her set list was good, too, mixing in works from earlier in her career (several cuts from “Car Wheels”) to her most recent tracks.
“There’s something happening here/ But what it is ain’t exactly clear,” go the lyrics in “For What It’s Worth.”
But Williams’ Sunday night guests knew a little bit about what’s was happening. There was magic on the stage, and real emotion in our collective conscious.
About the opener: Billy Joe Shaver was wild. Not wild in the sense that he moved about the stage frantically. That wasn’t the case at all. In fact, he lamented to the crowd that he didn’t play guitar as much as he wanted to because he couldn’t lift his arm high enough after dislocating his shoulder.
No, Shaver was wild in his stories, which dominated much of his 45-minute opening set. For instance: After a fan screamed “I love you, Billy Joe,” he retorted by saying, “I love me, too.” He talked candidly about popping pills, his faith (“If you don’t love Jesus, go to Hell,” he told the crowd more than once) rendezvous with women (“I did everything that wasn’t a farm animal,” he said) and the time that he shot a man in the face during a Texas bar fight. That’s a true story. Shaver didn’t need that to add to his country outlaw street cred, as he’s got 40 years worth of albums as proof. He played the bulk of his hits, including “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal” and “Old Five and Dimers.” He may have lost some of his voice over the years, and he certainly missed a few notes along the way. But he still had every ounce of his bravado, and in this business, that goes a long way.
Billy Joe Shaver setlist: 1) Georgia on a Fast Train; 2) Wacko from Waco; 3) Honky Tonk Heroes; 4) That’s What She Said Last Night; 5) Ragged Old Truck; 6) Old Five and Dimers (Like Me); 7) I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal; 8) When Fallen Angels Fly; 9) Live Forever; 10) Ride Me Down; 11) You Asked Me To; 12) Try and Try Again; 13) [I did not catch the title of this track] 14) ) [I did not catch the title of this track]
Lucinda Williams setlist: 1) I Just Wanted to See You So Bad; 2) Car Wheels on a Gravel Road; 3) The Night’s Too Long; 4) People Talkin’; 5) Pineola; 6) Concrete & Barbwire; 7) Well, Well, Well; 8) Crescent City; 9) Buttercup; 10) Lake Charles; 11) Ugly Truth; 12) Born to be Loved; 13) Too Cool to be Forgotten; 14) Steal Your Love; 15) Righteously; 16) Change the Locks; 17) Honey Bee
Encore: 18) Blessed; 19) Joy; 20) For What It’s Worth