Confession time: For as long as I remember and often pray I would only forget, I've been on a singular and solitary search for one who can come up with an original feeling. Something between inspiration and fear, a saunter and a stupor, love and melancholy. I met one once, a while back (or was it a couple years?) though some would argue that God is the only one capable of inventing new feelings. I wouldn't necessarily disagree that's what it's always been about. You got to get right with God (or serve somebody).
During my original over chronicled and too long drawn out "bleu" period, just about my favorite song in the entire world was Hank Williams' "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive."
Like many (most?) of Hank's songs the lyrics suggest a man possessed by his own muse, in as much pain as can be, yet exorcising his demon in song ("...no matter how I struggle and strive, I'll never get out of this world alive...") He sings it as if he means it and I believed every word.
In some of her music, Lucinda Williams comes awfully darn close to not only capturing Hank's spirit, but also generating a true original spark of a feeling. There's something so pure in her voice, skilled in her words and it all coalesces in her music to create something awfully authentic.
Her concert at First Avenue Tuesday night came mighty close to creating something all together different (and anticipated) in me. No doubt if she is truly capable of creating a brand new feeling it would inevitably be labeled with an "S" word. Her concert was full of them: sultry and simmering; scintillating and spooky; sweltering and shimmering, sweaty and swampy; singing sweet sad songs. Toward the end of the performance Williams said that the hot humid weather reminded her of growing up in Mississippi with no air conditioning, trying to get to sleep in her sweat soaked sheets. She noted her most recent CD, Essence was recorded in Minneapolis during the dead of winter, and now she was here performing the songs in the "dead of summer." She wondered what was the meaning of the extremes.
Extreme is a good word to describe her songs, there is no ambivalent middle ground. Raw and vulnerable, she doesn't leave much behind. Performing mostly material from her last two CDs, she was in fine vocal form. Admitting about the only way to forget about the heat was to sing the blues she proceeded to do so in a rather absorbing spirit. Her band backed her deftly soaring through some of the more up tempo material like "Joy," "Essence," and "Changed the Locks." Yet it was in a more quiet moment that was the highlight of the show for me. Performing a simple and reserved version of "Reason to Cry" from her new CD, Williams hit a intimate note that existed somewhere outside the rest of her cool cowboy hatted repertoire. ("Just to sit and talk the way we used to do/It just breaks my heart that I can't get close to you.../When you lose your happiness/When no one's standing by/When nothing makes any sense/You've got reason to cry...")
The second song of the first encore, the fourteenth song of the evening (out of seventeen) was Lucinda's answer to Hank's spiritual spookiness: "Get Right With God." She introduced the song by saying she writes about love and sex and God and between sex and God she isn't sure what pushes more buttons in her listeners but she is pretty sure it is her songs about God. As the band hit the spunky intro to the song, Lucinda did a little slow jig in front of guitarist Bo Ramsey. Call it channeling, or call it sterling swaying, the song is the most frightening thing I've heard in quite a while and harks back to that other time: "I would burn the soles of my feet/Burn the palms of both my hands/If I could learn and be complete/If I could walk righteously again..."
I had lunch recently with a new dear friend who enlightened me (in every sense of the word) when she told me she used to like watching scary movies until she realized that life itself is scary enough. I sense we speak the same language and I know her enjoyment of the show had to be somewhere near my own. The atmosphere was uncomfortable and the music equally challenging. Yet it isn't often one gets the chance to see an idiosyncratic artist at the top of their game; an artist who can at least provide a ray of hope that maybe you haven't experienced everything that's out there to feel quite yet.