The last time she performed at Crossroads KC, in May 2011, hard rain put Lucinda Williams in a foul mood. Thursday night, she returned to the venue for the first time since that show, and though the skies threatened rain or worse, her mood couldn’t have been sunnier.
A modest-size crowd of 500 or so showed up to hear Williams, whose previous performance around here was at Liberty Hall in November. She gave fans 90 minutes of her trademark mix of country and blues.
Williams is touring on “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone,” a double album released in September. She played five of its tracks, including “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” the jaunty country-blues anthem that opened the show.
In an interview with The Star two weeks ago, Williams, 62, said she feels like she is the best she’s ever been, especially vocally. Thursday night, her voice was in good form, whether singing a pop-blues song like “Metal Firecracker” or a gut-wrenching blues-soul ballad like “Unsuffer Me,” one of several highlights.
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She was backed by Buick 6, the trio that opened the show: Stuart Mathis on guitar, David Sutton on bass, Butch Norton on drums. Williams has always had support from a stellar guitarist (Bo Ramsey, Doug Pettibone), and Mathis is another. He colored many of her songs with tasteful fills and leads. She loosed the band to jam on a few songs; none was longer or stormier than the one that closed “Essence.”
The set list included four tracks from her breakthrough album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” including the title track, “Lake Charles” and “Drunken Angel,” her tribute to the late Blaze Foley, which included some fiery blues harp from Mathis. She also played a few songs solo acoustic, displaying some guitar skills that seem to have improved.
Relatives of Williams, who is from Arkansas, were in the crowd. She acknowledged them and then honored a request from one of them, a great-niece: “Real Love.” After “Cold Day in Hell,” another midtempo blues song, she acknowledged that the show’s pace needed quickening, so she steered the band into “Are You Down,” which was only slightly quicker.
She closed her first set with two of her bluesiest anthems: “Righteously,” which she admitted she once sang at a karaoke bar, then “Honey Bee,” which showcased again the power in her voice. She and the band returned for a three-song encore that included two covers: the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” which prompted some widespread dancing, and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.” Both were played pretty straight and were odd substitutes for two of her own songs.
For the finale, she and the band tore into “Right With God,” an electric gospel-blues song about the search for salvation. As she and her band took their bows, Williams, looking pleased and grateful, thanked the crowd and issued a few requests, including: “Vote for Bernie Sanders.”
It turns out it rained hard Thursday night elsewhere around Kansas City, but over Crossroads KC all was clear and pleasant.
Something Wicked This Way Comes; Bleeding Fingers; Car Wheels on a Gravel Road; Drunken Angel; Metal Firecracker; Compassion; Real Love; Lake Charles; Cold Day in Hell; Are You Down; Protection; Foolishness; Unsuffer Me; Essence; Righteously; Honey Bee; Should I Stay or Should I Go; The Rising; Right With God.