It seemed only fitting, being Sunday and all, that Lucinda Williams wound up her tough as oak performance last night at the Opera House with the tabernacle-infused fun of Get Right With God. Admittedly, the snake handling and bed of nails imagery Williams sang of may not have fit everyone’s idea of sermonizing. But there was no doubting the fervor the singer and her extraordinary band had been working up to over the previous two hours.
It started with the deceptively deadpan affirmation of Blessed, worked its way through five tunes from her new double-album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, hit full throttle with a double barrel blast of Change the Locks and Joy and tagged up with the blues before meeting up with the Lord.
Hallelujah to that. Pacing, it turns out, is just one of things Williams masters in concert. Luckily, she also possessed an arsenal of powerfully plain speaking songs that allowed her to work up to such a fuss with authority.
The childhood snapshot Cars Wheels on a Gravel Road and the boozy epitaph Drunken Angel defined the early stages of the show with understated melodies and grooves balanced by devastating narratives. By the time the Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone material kicked in, temperament went a little more hand in hand with tempo, especially on the sin-busting rocker Cold Day in Hell. “You thought you could make it to heaven,” Williams sang with droll confidence. “But, honey, heaven done closed the door.”
As the music intensified, so did the resourceful playing of Williams’ band – guitarist Stuart Mathis (on loan from The Wallflowers), bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton. It was especially to fun watching Norton at work. Think rock drummers are only defined by flashy solos? Not this guy. Norton continually defined grooves and then toyed with them, whether it was the cool drive flowing under People Talkin’ or the rockish might he hammered into the set-closing roots rock parade of Honey Bee.
And what would this Sunday service be without the blues? For that, Williams offered a surprise encore reading of the early Allman Brothers Band classic It’s Not My Cross to Bear, a song that eluded to serious testifying but was grounded in the kind of earthy urgency that fueled all of this fine, fascinating performance.