Lucinda Williams has never struck me as a very comfortable performer. In fact, there have been shows where I wonder why she tortures herself like that. Surprisingly, tonight, on Stoughton Opera House’s relatively small stage with only guitarist Doug Pettibone beside her, she was as comfortable as I’ve ever seen her. Oh, she still had her security blanket, a book of lyrics, on a stand in front of her, but I got the feeling she wouldn’t flip out if she accidentally forgot to turn the page before starting the next song. (Um, yes, that did happen once.) She seemed relaxed in front of the eager and attentive capacity crowd at the gorgeously restored old theater as she sampled a career’s worth of material. After a few songs I got used to the fact that she looked older than I remembered, and that her unruly bleached white hair made her look like a troll doll.
In addition to “Born to Be Loved” from her most recent release Blessed, she also tried out a new songs “A Place in my Heart” and “I Look at the World.” All of which sounded great, but failed to stick with me, a trend I feel started with the record World Without Tears (the title track of which was her opening song tonight). The more recent material was balanced with older songs, going all the way back to “Change the Locks” from her self-titled release. The parallel structure of the song finds the protagonist going to greater and greater lengths to avoid the addressee, progressing from changing the locks to changing the name of the town. She also drew heavily from her best-known and arguably best record Car Wheels on a Gravel Road which made up almost a third of the set. The title track, the ironically angry song “Joy” and the ode to Blaze Foley “Drunken Angel” are some of the stand-out cuts on a record that has stood the test of time. The latter is perhaps my favorite of all her songs (even more so now that Williams former guitar player Gurf Morlix enlightened me to Foley’s music with his album of covers), so I was delighted that she still plays it.
To the surprise of the audience and apparently even the organizers, Williams brought an unexpected opening act with her. The Kenneth Brian was exactly the sort of band who look like they might have ambushed a tour, showing up one night to play and then just tagging along for the rest of it. There were three men, all sporting impressive facial hair- the band’s namesake and two others who played on some of the songs. Then there was a girl with a pretty voice and a fiddle who I swear was introduced as Ellie Mae (turns out it is Lillie Mae). She played and sang well enough, but she always looked like she was on the verge of falling over. Whether it was from intoxication or from just getting way too into the music I couldn’t tell. When she came back later to play some songs with Lucinda she wasn’t any steadier, and looked unsure that she should even be there.
Usually the acts at the Opera House play two sets, but since there was an opener Williams only played one longish one. The Stoughton venue is lovingly run by Bill and Christina who put in long hours to make sure the venue stays on track. Unfortunately when tickets went on sale for this show there was a computer malfunction which halted sales and required them to do the orders by hand. I think everyone had pretty much forgiven the headache by the night of the show, but in her musical introduction Christina asked for forgiveness one more time. Her unique sung introductions are part of what makes the Stoughton Opera House a great place to see a show, and tonight continued a winning streak.
Kenneth Bryant Band
Lucinda Williams & Doug Pettibone