Published Jun 25, 2019Lucinda Williams has been touring behind the 20th anniversary of her most popular album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and the celebration continued with a sold-out show at the Commodore Ballroom on Monday night. Williams took fans on a deep dive of the album's 13 tracks, divulging each song's backstory while home videos, personal photos, and pages of lyrics were displayed on the screen behind her.
And did Williams have stories to tell. She traced memories from childhood and her travels through the American South: Macon, Jackson, Vicksburg, West Memphis, Slidell, Lake Charles, Lake Ponchatrain, Lafayette, Baton Rouge. She told so many stories, it took her an hour to get to her ninth song, "Metal Firecracker."
"Metal Firecracker" alone was worth the wait, as she bashfully described a passionate tour-bus tryst. "Drunken Angel" was a tribute to songwriter Blaze Foley, who was shot dead in 1989; she recalled that even though he was a drinker, he could never keep up with Townes Van Zandt. But, she qualified, "No one could keep up with Townes."
"2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten" was inspired by graffiti she came across while scouting a location for the album's cover art. She wrote a song around the ambiguous phrase. "It's up to interpretation," she said of the song.
One of the night's only issues was her voice. It faltered on multiple songs, particularly the title track and "2 Kool." When she couldn't hit the right notes, though, her exquisite backing band compensated effectively. Drummer Jonathan "Butch" Norton was the metaphorical two hands on the wheel. He kept the group steady on the bumpy trip down memory lane, while Stuart Mathis rotated through a rack of eight guitars and bassist David Sutton busted out an upright bass for "Concrete Barbed Wire," "Greenville" and "Jackson."
Although a significant amount of chatter suggested some fans grew restless from her stories, everyone enjoyed the portion of the show that followed Car Wheels. With the album recital in the rear-view, the band got straight to the music with no preambles.
They moved into looser, more rock territory with "Steal Your Love," "Out of Touch" and "Honey Bee." "Righteously" detoured into a brief snippet of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." Next, they played a full-length cover of Neil Young's "Rocking in the Free World." Williams and company wound down their two-and-a-half-hour set with the mostly acoustic "Blessed," which left her fans feeling exactly that.