Tour opening nights can often be hit and miss affairs, particularly when the tour is promoting an album not yet available to the general public. Lucinda Williams’ show at Vicar Street was supporting her latest album Ghosts of Highway 20 due for release in Europe on 22nd January. Any concerns as to whether this would be an issue were brushed aside even before Miss Williams arrived on stage. The support slot by Buick 6, her touring band, set the scene for what was to be without doubt a memorable night for anyone lucky enough to have attended the sell-out show.
As Buick 6 take the stage a female recorded’ voice over’ requests that the audience ‘’shut the fuck up’’ before they launch into a thirty minute opening set of bluesy, surfy and twangy instrumentals with lots of humour on the side. Many of their instrumentals would not seem out of place on any Tarantino soundtrack.
Buick 6 consists of guitarist Stuart Mathis, bass player David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton and have been Lucinda Williams’ touring band in recent years. There chemistry on stage, during their set and particularly backing Lucinda Williams, is nothing short of telepathic and contributes to an evening of vintage Williams, so much more satisfying than her last show at the same venue in 2013.
Buick 6 have recently recorded an album, on Williams recommendation she informs us later, titled Plays Well With Others. The album contains twelve instrumental tracks and a cover of Bob Marley’s Well, Well, Well featuring Lucinda Williams on vocal. Butch Norton jokes… "all you Lucinda Williams completists out there need to buy our album at the merc stall, it’s the only recording by Lucinda of this song, you gotta have it, cheaper than Lu’s album too!’’
Thirty minutes later Buick 6 are back on stage as Lucinda Williams begins with the slow burning and bluesy Protection from the album Where The Spirit Meets The Bone. What follows is a storming one hour fifty minutes set featuring crowd favourites such as Drunken Angel and Lake Charles ("people seem to gravitate towards those two songs, most nights you come to see us they’re on the setlist’’) balanced perfectly with material from her recent two albums and her back catalogue.
Not always noted for being comfortable engaging with her audiences, the show finds her in fine talkative and upbeat form. She explains the concept of the new album, her association with the towns and cities along Highway 20 throughout her life ("some places you can’t let go of and won’t let go of you") before a moving delivery, solo acoustic, of the album’s title track.
Particularly emotional and personal mid set are two songs concerning her father Miller Williams, a renowned writer and poet, who died in January 2015. First is Temporary Nature written in 2014 prior to his death, the title being a figure of speech he often used.
"I’m gonna start crying before I even start the song" she jokes. The emotion in her vocal is obvious and well recognised and respected by the crowd. "That was so hard to get through, I can really feel your energy, thank you."
The second song in memory of her father and possibly the highlight of the evening is Dust, the opening track on the new album, recorded after her father’s death. Williams explains that she added music to the poem written by him and how difficult the challenge was. The song itself is beautifully atmospheric and augmented by stunning guitar work by Mathis.
Are You Down follows on a much more upbeat tempo, climaxing with a blistering five minute jam by Buick 6 with Williams moving side stage to observe and enjoy."It’s that time of the night already folks but I feel like playing on unless they kick us off the stage" adds Williams and maintain the already high energy levels for the remainder of the set which features Essence, Change The Locks and Honey Bee, before leaving the stage.
For encores Williams comes back on stage and performs a moving solo acoustic version of the Jimi Hendrix song Angel ("dedicated to all the treasured musicians and lost spirits who passed away in recent years, Lou Reed, Ian Mc Lagan, David Bowie, Lemmy and Glen Fry")
The finale is the staple Joy followed by a rapturous Rockin’ In The Free World with the band stepping back to allow the audience, with the house lights on, to sing a few choruses with fists in the air.
All in all a special show which seemed to generate as much enjoyment and satisfaction to those on stage as it did to the audience. A pleasure to witness an artist as influential and vital as Lucinda Williams still reaching such heights.
Review and photography by Declan Culliton