*Photo taken at Knucklehead’s Saloon By Your Intrepid Blogger
I had a buddy who was texting me from Denver last night. He was at Mile High Stadium, home of the dreaded Denver Broncos, watching the power and the majesty that is Guns N Roses. I saw that show about a year ago and man did I love it (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Of course we all love GnR here at B&V. It was great to finally get to see them live for the first time last year, although I must admit I’d have liked to see Izzy Stradlin with the band. Izzy never gets the credit he deserves. His rhythm guitar playing is some of the best. I saw Izzy playing in a bar once with my friend Stormin’ and he was amazing. Judging from the setlist, my Denver pal saw one hell of a show last night. Although I think he was bummed they played “Live And Let Die” instead of the obscure “Ain’t It Fun.” Yeah, I don’t understand why he’d want to hear a Dead Boys’ cover vs the McCartney tune either… But, to each, their own.
Meanwhile, one very long state away, I was sitting in the bleachers at a dive bar in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood. Nestled under an underpass and right next to active train tracks (I’m not kidding, I think I counted 4 trains go by during the show) Knucklehead’s Saloon has become KC’s premier spot for live music. In the old days, The Grand Emporium was the spot to hear live blues. They also had a great reggae night, every Wednesday (I think). I saw a band called the Bone Daddy’s there, it was great reggae… the ladies went nuts when they played, but I digress. Greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Koko Taylor all played the Grand Emporium (I missed the former, saw the latter). Alas, it’s now in the mist of memory but thankfully Knucklehead’s opened up and has taken the Grand Em’s place as the seat of blues music in town.
Last night I convened with several hundred other people to hear some live music the way God intended it, outside under the stars. And while it was not the enormous spectacle of GnR, Lucinda Williams was powerful and majestic in her own right. Most of the time, the best shows are in small bars and halls instead of stadiums. She was backed by a simple three piece band consisting of a great lead guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. Lucinda herself played acoustic guitar for most the night and some rhythm electric. I was surprised she didn’t have a keyboard player but her band really brought the sound, they didn’t need one. The guitarist was particularly muscular in his playing. I loved the red Gretsch he played on a number of tunes.
I guess Lucinda’s music could best be described as “roots” music. It’s bluesy, with a dash of country mixed in. At the heart of her music is that fabulous voice. She barely opens her mouth when she sings. She makes it look effortless and yet she belts these tunes out and I’m sure the conductors on the trains could hear her. To describe her singing as powerful is an understatement. And yet, she never misses the nuance in her songs. She could go from a bluesy rocker to a ballad and it all sounded great.
By the fourth song, “Drunken Angel,” one of my all time favorites, Lucinda had the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of her hand. It was a great version of a great song. She announced the song, “Burning Bridges,” from her LP ‘Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone’ as being about a guitar player who had left her band in a bad way. I don’t think she said his name, but it was clear from the lyrics she was not pleased by his leaving. To underscore her point, her current guitar player, melted the faces off those of us in the crowd with some of the best solo’ing of the night. Don’t cross Lucinda, folks.
One of the most poignant songs of the night was “Memphis Pearl,” from ‘Sweet Old World.’ Lucinda intro’d the song with a story about seeing a homeless woman when she first moved to LA, going through trash bins looking for food. She said she tried to imagine that woman’s story and that’s where the song came from. Very moving stuff. She featured several songs from ‘Sweet Old World’ which she has apparently just recut in the studio for September release. “Six Blocks Away” from that album was another highlight.
I have to admit, broad smiles crossed the faces of both the Rock Chick and I, when mid-set Lucinda broke into “Lake Charles.” I’ve always loved that one. When I woke up this morning, that was the song running through my head. I even belted out the chorus, and with my sleep-ragged voice, I felt I nailed it but the Rock Chick merely laughed at me. She also played a great tune I thought was a Tom Petty song, “Changed the Locks,” but apparently it’s a Lucinda song. Petty only covered it.
Toward’s the end of the main set she turned it up with a raucous version of “Righteously,” followed by the rocker “Honey Bee,” one of her dirtiest of songs… She smiled at one point in the show and said, “This is just who I am folks, this is what I do. This is how I am when I’m comfortable and y’all are making me real comfortable.” She also went on to say it was the artist’s duty to comment on social unrest as she noted that there were people in the streets, protestors, and scenes she hadn’t seen since Vietnam. It didn’t come off as preachy, it was just down home wisdom.
She started off her encore with ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and that was a real unexpected treat. She also covered the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and her and her band nailed it. It was quite a bit different than the Stones’ version, but hey, I dug her interpretation. She also played my friend Jeanne’s favorite tune, “Joy,” during the encore and it brought the house down.
Live music is so essential to life. Especially when practiced by a true master like Lucinda Williams. Do yourself a favor and try and get out and see her. As the Rock Chick said to me, when the band left the stage and the house lights came up, “That was a great concert.” Lucinda may be getting older, but like the fine wine she was drinking on stage, she’s just getting better.