Lucinda Williams in Vicar Street, Dublin, on January 19th 2016
Maybe every gig should start with a French accented female voice instructing that “everybody please shut the fuck up.” It’s one way to focus attention; you have to give Buick 6 that. The three-piece seem to have a serious amount of gear for a support act: a bank of effects pedals and a scatter of amps pen Stuart Mathis in on one side of the stage, a big slab of a bass amp lies behind David Sutton on the other, while drummer Butch Norton takes smart casual to the next level on his drum riser, holding court in shorts, waistcoat and Stetson.
Instrumental blues is the order of the day, and some questions are answered as Norton informs us that “we’re also Lucinda’s band. I don’t know if that’s bad or that’s good.” They put their ‘Plays Well With Others’ album (boom boom) out after she suggested they get it together, and their meld of slow experimental, through standard fare to rocking blues gives an indication of how Lucinda Williams’ set will progress.
The Louisiana singer’s last visit to Vicar Street was in 2013, a more acoustically low-key affair than tonight’s show. A bluesy Protection opens, with Williams then donning acoustic for Can’t Let Go. “This next song seems to touch a lot of people” she drawls simply, dispensing with a classic track early in the set, and there’s no further preamble needed for Drunken Angel. It’s an undeniable staple, as she later admits in advance of Lake Charles (“Pretty much any night you come see us play we’ll have both of these songs in the setlist”), with the singer plucking twangy root chords at one end of a guitar neck and Stuart Mathis flying high at the other end.
The more tender, introspective moments are punctuated with the band’s segues into blues rock squall, not least on Are You Down. A slight cod reggae flirtation passes as Williams’ ambles to the side to let the band flex an instrumental muscle, and things kick off from the laid back front end to a raucous throwdown. Fruits Of My Labour recalls Etta James in Williams’ deep, commanding vocal, and For Those Three Days is wonderful, an impassioned delivery of a raw, soul exposing track. Less successful is the pairing of her father’s poetry with the jagged instrumentation of Dust, like two jigsaw pieces that don’t quite fit.
The band’s dynamic is the counterpoint to her often startling voice, quiet/loud sonics that ricochet off one another. It’s an emotional trip for Williams (“That was kind of hard to get through” she admits after The Temporary Nature), re-emerging after the encore and dedicating Hendrix’s Angel to those “rock’n’roll spirits” – Lou Reed, Ian MacLagan, Bowie, Lemmy, and Glenn Frey. It’s a celebratory finale, though, with Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World. The lights go up as the band quietens down to let the crowd sing, fists punch the air, and it disintegrates into a brief Crazy Horse inspired psych blues finale. “Love and peace…power to the people” Williams concludes as the night’s miscellany of country, blues, rock and soul winds down. Based on this visit, and with a voice that could stop a car on a gravel road, her fiery temperament is burning as strongly as ever.