Well, that was one of the more interesting shows I've attended, a fine evening.
Lucinda came out a little after 7:30 and did an hour. The crowd seemed split between people who knew her work and people who didn't, but the former were very vocal and provided a better atmosphere than the average opening act could expect. Lucinda thanked them for their kindness. It turns out this was the last show on the long World Without Tears tour, so they were gonna shake things up, because, she said, they didn't just want to walk through a standard set. So she flipped through her book of songs (literally, it sat there the whole night, and she referred to it often, it was her lo-tech teleprompter), and after a minute or so she said what the heck, and opened with what is probably still her most famous song, "Passionate Kisses."
Her set was sloppy in a good way ... I don't suppose she was drunk, but she was so much looser than we'd ever seen her that the thought crossed our minds. You see, Robin and I love Lucinda Williams and have been going to see her for many years now, but what carries her concerts is her songs ... she isn't exactly a dynamic performer. But tonight? She talked before every song, she seemed to be making up the setlist as she went along, she told stories, and she really tore into the songs, especially "Still I Long For Your Kiss." At the end of the night, after closing with "Get Right With God," she planted mushy kisshugs on each of the band members, even climbing through the drumset to get to the drummer. Meanwhile, she wore a CBGBs t-shirt, showed off her tattoo, and generally had a raucous good time, which I never thought I'd say about Lucinda Williams.
The setlist, in no particular order, included our fave "Changed the Locks," four from Car Wheels (but, ironically, no "Joy," perhaps because for the first time in our presence, she was actually experiencing joy), and "Righteously" (which replaced "Joy" as the guitar raveup). Willie Nelson's fine harmonica player Mickey Raphael joined the band for most of the set, and was a welcome addition, as he has the ability to make his harp sound like a Farfisa organ, an accordion, and lots of other things.
After a break of maybe 15 minutes tops, out came Willie. It's kinda odd seeing a legend ... I spent the first few minutes just staring at him, thinking "man, there he is, Willie Nelson, it's really him." Actually, even before he came out, we were staring at a legend: his guitar, which sat on its stand as the roadies set things up. If you've never seen it, it's the damnedest thing ... let me see if I can find a picture of it:
Yes, that's a second hole, one Willie has worn into the thing over the years. (BTW, that's an old picture ... both the guitar and Willie look a lot older now.)
Willie played for about an hour and 45 minutes. Never having seen him before, I can only go by what I read, but it seemed like a standard set, with most of the classics. At one point he did an extended medley of "'Funny How Time Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life," and I yelled at Robin, "it's like he wrote every song in history!" But then he did other people's songs, songs that we identify with him, like "Always on My Mind" and "Georgia on My Mind," and you realize if there's a song he didn't write, he's probably sung it at some point, anyway. The weird thing was, he did songs across a wide variety of styles, and every time you thought "he fits right in" or "he makes this his own" or "I think he invented this." So there was the countrypolitan "Crazy" and a rockin' version of "Me and Bobby McGee," there was the gospel of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and the vocal classics like "Always on My Mind," there was a handful of Hank Williams songs and "Milk Cow Blues." And Willie Nelson always sounded like he and the song belonged together. I'm not saying he was bringing something new to the table tonight ... he's sung most of these songs literally thousands of times. But they fit him like a snug hemp sweater.
The band had some highlights ... two, to be exact, Raphael and Willie's little sister Bobbie on piano. The rest was undistinguished ... in the case of Willie's son Lucas, who played the blues on guitar, the less said the better, although his "I learned this one from a Stevie Ray Vaughan record" licks went over well with the crowd.
Now, here's the big secret ... at least, I didn't know it. Willie Nelson is a phenomenal guitar player. He plays that fucked up old acoustic thing, but man, can he play it! I can only imagine what he must have been like before his carpal tunnel surgery! He's not just technically adept, although he is indeed that. He is very creative ... the sound is like a cross between a cowboy roundup and zither music, but beyond that, the notes Willie decides to play are idiosyncratic ... Carrie Brownstein could learn a few tricks from Willie Nelson. And his solos never sounded rote (even if they were, I have no idea) ... he may have walked through some of those lyrics, but once he started playing his guitar, he lost himself in reverie, and it was really something to see and hear. Before the show, we were watching some dancers practice in lower Sproul Plaza, and I told Robin I never really "got" dance, because I didn't get the point ... it was as if I needed narrative to make it understandable, and dance isn't about narrative. Well, I was right about not "getting" dance, but I think I was wrong about narrative, because a guitar solo has no narrative, esp. when Willie Nelson is pulling freakish leads out of his ass, but I love listening to guitar.
When Lucinda was done with her set, she gave a pretty long speech about what performing meant to her. I swear, I thought she was gonna cry ... we really have never seen her like she was tonight. She said she'd been doing this for 30 years, and she's finally figuring out why people like Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and B.B. King keep playing and playing and playing, no matter how old they get. She told us that you can't put a price on the gratification you get when you can perform your songs for an appreciative audience. She just seemed so thankful to be able to do what she did. And her words resonated with me as I watched Willie Nelson sing "On the Road Again" for the three billionth time ... this is what he does, and you can't put a price on it.
Finally, a note about the venue. The sound was excellent for both acts. More important, our seats were terrific, ninth row center. Merch update: Robin bought a Lucinda t-shirt, and I managed to finagle her a poster from the show (unlike the Fillmore, where everyone gets a poster, in this case, they handed out a limited number of collectors items).