Lucinda Williams: Overcoming bad love
ASPEN Before playing “Unsuffer Me” Thursday night at Belly Up, Lucinda Williams felt obliged to explain that the song, from her recent album “West,” was not about a former boyfriend. Reviewers, she said, had misinterpreted the lyrics, and she pointed out that “not all my songs are about ex-boyfriends.”Listeners could certainly be forgiven for the misreading. To that point, Williams’ performance had been punctuated by such lines as “Did you only want me for those three days?” “You didn’t even make me come on,” “I know our love is gone but I can’t bring it back” and “I changed the lock on my front door/So you can’t see me anymore.” Delivered usually with a growl longer and deeper than the album version, it cemented Williams’ reputation for focusing (obsessing?) on the wounds – often as much physical as psychic – past lovers inflicted.
But “Unsuffer Me,” she continued, was a message to herself, a reminder to shake off the pain and bitterness and carry on her quest for knowledge and bliss. The songs about romances gone bad were enough to work Williams into a lather, but “Unsuffer Me” brought something even more intense. Through the song, Williams held her hand out, as though something needing to be filled. Her fingers trembled with the intensity of that desire; the crowd, which had been respectfully quiet for her calmer songs, went ballistic.Paired with “Joy” – which Williams explained was also an internal reminder, to never let anyone mess with your joy – “Unsuffer Me” revealed the paradox of this massively talented singer and songwriter. While the songs that have earned her a reputation are about romantic agony, the real appeal of Williams is the desire – intense to the point of aching – to transcend it. She finds an ecstasy in the process. Though her lyrics bite and accuse and leave her bloodied body behind as evidence of the mistreatment, Williams as a performer makes you want to run up on stage and give her a hug. Repeatedly she lavished praise on her band – drummer Butch Norton, bassist Dave Sutton, her longtime guitarist, the gifted Doug Pettibone – the audience and especially the club. Between verses, she danced.
Williams’ show wasn’t entirely about bad love and overcoming it. During the encore, she played “Marching the Hate Machine (Into the Sun),” a hopeful anti-war protest by the electronica duo Thievery Corporation and Wayne Coyne, leader of the Flaming Lips. For an unexpected dose of fun, Williams also tacked the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” onto the end of one of her own tunes.Williams revealed that she has found happiness in her personal life, having found her true love. But she said that a contended romance doesn’t mean a shortage of things to write about. For one thing, she pointed out, there’s a well of suffering in the world, and it’s never empty. For another, she closed the show with “West,” the closing track, and title song, from her latest CD. It is, for Williams, a thoroughly optimistic song, with lines like “The thousand miles between us/Will disappear some day” sung to a mellow backdrop of sound.
It may be a less snarling Williams who comes through town next time. But probably no less expressive, tuneful or lovable. Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com