Last month, Lucinda Williams released a re-recorded, expanded 25th anniversary edition of one of her best albums, Sweet Old World. She performed only one song from it, “Pineola,” at her Sunday night concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. But I can’t say I really missed it, because the rest of her catalog is so deep and rich.
Backed by the dynamic, economical trio The Buick 6 (which records and tours on its own, without her), Williams filled the theater with her inimitable voice — piercing, yearning, frequently breaking under the weight of its own emotion. She’s an accomplished, sophisticated songwriter, but as a performer, she’s a raw nerve, in a good way. This was easily one of the best concerts I’ve seen all year.
Among the show’s highlights were all four encores, which she performed with Steven Van Zandt on guitar and backing vocals. (Little Steven also hosted the show as part of his Citi Presents Little Steven’s Underground Garage at the Basie series.) She started with a deeply affecting version of Sam Cooke’s Civil Rights Era anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” then tackled classic blues with Slim Harpo’s “I Got Love If You Want It” and classic rock with The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” before closing the show with her own “Joy.”
Van Zandt took several guitar solos, giving Buick’s 6 Stuart Mathis, one of the most underrated guitarists in the rock world, a run for his money. Jesse Malin, who performed second on the bill (The Woggles opened), joined in, too, singing duet vocals on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and backing vocals on “Joy.”
“This used to be a love song, but now it’s a political song,” said Williams before “Joy.”
Referring to the line, “You took my joy, I want it back,” she said: “We all want our joy back.”
She also performed a powerful new protest song, “We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around,” and drew a big cheer by adding some lines to “Foolishness”:
I don’t need racism in my life
I don’t need sexism in my life
I don’t need hate in my life
I don’t need walls in my life
I need freedom in my life
I need love in my life
I need peace in my life
Williams also paid tribute to the late Tom Petty with his autobiographical ballad, “Southern Accents.” Since her Southern roots factors into many of her own songs, the lines, “Got my own way of living, but everything gets done/With a southern accent, where I come from,” fit her perfectly well, too.
She spoke warmly about Van Zandt, who has played her music frequently on his syndicated Underground Garage radio program (currently celebrating its 15th anniversary) and both of his SiriusXm satellite radio channels, Underground Garage and Outlaw Country.
Van Zandt also performed earlier in the show, joining Malin for a riotous version of The Ramones “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” You can watch this song below, as well as Malin’s high-spirited set-closer, “You Know It’s Dark When Atheists Start to Pray,” and two of of Williams’ performances.
The Woggles performed their opening set with impressive energy. But whereas Williams and Malin have come into their own as distinctive songwriters while keeping their music bracing and direct, The Woggles seem content to stick to garage-rock formulas (or, in the case of their set-closer, a cover of Chubby Checker’s “Karate Monkey,” recycle a forgotten novelty song).
Here is Williams’ setlist:
“Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings”
“Ghosts of Highway 20” (solo)
“We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around”
“Changed the Locks”
“A Change Is Gonna Come” (with Steven Van Zandt)
“I Got Love If You Want It” (with Steven Van Zandt)
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (with Steven Van Zandt and Jesse Malin)
“Joy” (with Steven Van Zandt and Jesse Malin)
Thanks to Rose Montana, Shelley Hesson and Sharkey’s Night for posting these videos.
Lucinda Williams: “We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around”
Lucinda Williams: “Southern Accents”
Jesse Malin with Steven Van Zandt: “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?”
Jesse Malin: “You Know It’s Dark When Atheists Start to Pray”
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