Lucinda plays with her frets.
Review by Karl H. RossA night of meaningless babble began when I boarded the 36 Broadway bus. A drunk and apparently homeless man with trousers hovering at mid-thigh and a medical bandage wrapping his entire head rambled incoherent talk to anyone within an ear shot.
Photos by Barry Brecheisen
Not a surprise for a Friday night on Broadway. The surprise came 30 minutes later after departing the bus and joining a capacity crowd at Chicago's Riviera Theatre. We saw and heard similar oddities from two all-star performers.
Don't get me wrong. The Lucinda Williams/Ryan Adams show was great. Williams aimed to please in her final show of the year and did, with a full set that mixed her trademark tunes of melancholy and heartache with the familiar, stronger sounds that reflect her rock-n-roll influences. Though her voice was strong, her legs were wobbly. Gone were her sultry stage movements and hip rotations that make Axl Rose look like the loser in a hoola-hoop contest. Williams instead seemed almost lost on stage at times; the few instances she spoke, her words further demonstrated her confused state. For example, teeing up "Joy," one of her harder, more popular songs off her 1998 widely renowned Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda offered advice to those at The Riv. She said not to let anyone take away their joy. Then, in an elementary school girl mini-rant, listed several people that included mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, "...or even the President of the United States of America," she slurred in conclusion. An embarrassing introduction given the poignant lyrics that typically flow from her pen. As always, Williams was big on dedications. She gave "2 Cool 2 Be 4-Gotten" to the recently passed George Harrison, which brought cheers from the crowd. She gave other shout outs to Kurt Cobain and Townes Van Zandt. Later in the evening, she gave one last dedication before covering Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," but, midway through the song, she botched it, stopped and started over from the beginning. This brought some pockets of awkward laughter from the crowd. These unpolished events only slightly tainted an otherwise impressive show. Bo Ramsey, lead guitarist, picked up the slack and sizzled his six string through a variety of tracks, like "Changed the Locks," "Get Right with God" and "Essence." Luckily, he took the reigns and shepherded this show to success.
Former Wiskeytown frontman, Ryan Adams proved a good show opener, playing an hour-long set that focused mostly on his recent album, Gold. Beginning with the now mainstream single "New York, New York," Adams tore through several other solid tracks from the album, including "The Rescue Blues," " When the Stars Go Blue," "Nobody Girl" and "Firecracker," which he thoughtfully dedicated to the headliner. Adams' surprised the crowd when he called onto stage "Chief," lead guitar technician for his band. After introductions, Adams handed over the guitar, and Chief led an impressive version of the Stones' "Brown Sugar." Adams' music was louder and faster than what you hear on his CD. This probably took off guard many of the TRL watchers in attendance, as they likely came for more subtlety and compassion. Instead, they got good old fashioned, high-energy rock with a pinch of angst thrown in for good measure. When it came to stage design, Adams kept it simple, yet odd. His three stage props: an American flag draped over a storage box and two life-sized cardboard cutouts - one of Darth Vader and one of Chewbacca. A strange visual to say the least that drew even more attention in between songs when Adams cued some stock sound of Vader's "theme music" then marched and saluted on stage. Adams put on a good show, but the night still belonged to Williams with her steady voice and proven set list. This far outshined the night's hiccups. And though she seemed to thank Adams only as an afterthought, the two proved to be a good pair for an exceptional night of music.
As for explaining Williams' unconventional behavior, some speculated she and her band may have begun the final concert "celebration" well before the concert. If this was the case, therein lies a touch of irony, as you, Lucinda, were this night's "Drunken Angel."
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