We recently interviewed interviewed Lucinda Williams, and on our call, she lamented the difficulties of her earlier days, hitting the road alone. "I talked to a girl not too long ago, a young singer-songwriter. And she was doing all that that I used to do, driving all over the place by herself. Not even a person to help her drive, just her and her guitar and blankets and stuff. It's so hard when you're just starting out," she told us.
But Saturday night, before a packed house at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse, she opened the show just that way: alone and unassuming with only her guitar.
Williams walked out under the spotlight and delivered the opening lines of "Blessed" until slowly, one by one, her bandmates joined her onstage, plucking, accenting with cymbals here and there, until it was a full and mighty send-up to the end of the song.
She was clad in a cropped, fitted black leather jacket, scuffed-up motorcycle boots, with an oversized belt buckle anchoring her slicked jeans. Her smoky eye makeup and mussed-up blond locks covered her face. Williams looked and sounded all the road veteran at this point in her career, emanating a more cool, rebel female lead than saccharine CMT starlet. But that's what seems to be the draw for her fans, many of whom stood for a rousing ovation before the first words even had a chance to hit the microphone. Fans howled out requests, all spanning different eras of her song catalog. Finally one hollered out, "Just play what you waaaaant!" And Williams happily obliged. She expertly cut into a set list sprinkled with selections off of her latest Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone and songs from the later part of her career with "World Without Tears" and "Little Honey."
Stage banter was at a minimum, save for the introduction to "Drunken Angel" and "Lake Charles," when she eulogized the "wild and wooly" characters for which the songs were intended. Williams said they were from her trilogy of "beautiful loser" songs of lovable, colorful folks she had met along the way who had passed away too soon.
The unmistakable queen of alt-country heartache songs, Williams has changed her focus over the years to include bigger (but still heartbreaking) issues. This is evident in "West Memphis," her live treatment of the story of the West Memphis Three -- a honky-tonk effort chronicling the story of the three wayward teens convicted (with forced confessions) in the murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. The shift also seems to include broader life-advice songs like "Compassion," which includes lines borrowed from her late father.
Williams (who turns 62 years old today, January 26), showed no signs of slowing down, rising to the occasion for a handful of encores, including a full-blown church service call-and-response during "Get Right With God." It ended with audience members' spirit fingers arched high toward the ceiling and bodies flailing in the aisles, bowing at the altar of Lucinda Williams.