Sunday, March 06, 2011

Lucinda Williams
Levon Helm's Ramble on the Road
Massey Hall
Toronto ON

While it may appear the billing on this post is backwards, if you were there, you would concur. For the second time running the best part of the Ramble was the superb quality of the support act. Steve Earle made the show in Woodstock last fall and Lucinda shone last night.

I have to confess I've never given Lucinda Williams too much thought. In theory I saw her perform live once; she opened for Bob Dylan in New Orleans back in the spring of 2003. I was three days into a three day bender and didn't even know Dylan had a saxophonist onstage with him until the next day. Suffice it to say I have no independent recollection of the opening set. Lots of my Dylan friends have a concurrent interest in her but that wasn't enough to convince me to dedicate the time and effort to discover and unravel another artist, especially one well into her career. More recently, at various CR Avery shows, I hear a nightly testament to her songwriting skills before the performance of Bus To Baton Rouge. Still not enough to get me to the record store, (if I could find a record store, anyone know where they went?). My bad.

When her name came up on this bill, giving me an excuse to see my 5th Ramble, I figured that was my cue. My good.

The show was heavy on more recent material; 4 songs from the new release and only one prior to 1998, out of a generous 14 song opening set. Every song was well done. Her voice is truly unique, a southern drawl that makes it so country with a hint of Buddy Holly's hiccup and Rick Danko's plaintive wail.
Some songs were terrific; Tears of Joy, Drunken Angel, Blue and Essence. Hard and honest stories.

She had a funky Cate Blanchett-doing-Bob Dylan-through Lucinda thing going on. A new spikey 'do. A perpetual smile. She was a little Chaplinesque too, at times wandering about, not aimlessly, but mischieviously. The audience was warm and she was humble in her appreciation. I know she's got an edge to her, you can hear it in her voice, but in 2011 she seems well within her own skin.

A couple songs were absolutely superb.

First the wonderfully simple and simply wonderful, Born To Be Loved. It's indescribable how subtely this tune works it's magic. Each verse contains two 'observations in the negative', samples of things that shouldn't happen to anyone, a bill of human rights in a mirror. Those two lines are followed by the repeated positive declaration found in the title. The juxtaposition of the oppressive reality of the first two lines against the emotionally naked assertion in the repeated closing couplet just hits an emotional button.

Because there's no sound attached to this blog, (it's verboten to post Recordings Of Independent Origins that have anything to do with the Ramble)I've taken the liberty of transcribing this tome, totally from memory, having heard it only, no wait, I bought the CD.

When reading just imagine Rick Danko's vocals on It Makes No Difference...that's how it sounded.

You weren't born to be abandoned
And you weren't born to be forsaken
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to be mistreated
And you weren't born to be misguided
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to be a slave
And you weren't born to be displaced
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to be abused
And you weren't born to lose
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

You weren't born to suffer
And you weren't born for nothing
You were born to be loved
You were born to be loved

The other song that knocked my socks off was the oldest of the night as Lucinda goes back to 1988 for a cut from her self-titled third album to play Changed the Locks. This is another well crafted song that doesn't follow the normal chorus-verse-chorus format but morphs into an emotion. You don't know why it works, it just works. It's the bridge, I think. The catalogue of defensive manoeuvers followed by the reasons they are necessary...absolutely heartwrenching. The progression from the mundane (locks) to the impossible (name of the town) is just exquisite.

I changed the lock on my front door so you can't see me anymore
And you can't come inside my house, and you can't lie down on my couch
I changed the lock on my front door

I changed the number on my phone so you can't call me up at home
And you can't say those things to me that make me fall down on my knees
I changed the number on my phone

I changed the kind of car I drive so you can't see me when I go by
And you can't chase me up the street, and you can't knock me off of my feet
I changed the kind of car I drive

I changed the kind of clothes I wear so you can't see me anywhere
And you can't spot me in a crowd, and you can't call my name out loud
I changed the kind of clothes I wear

I changed the tracks underneath the train so you can't find me again
And you can't trace my path, and you can't hear my laugh
I changed the tracks underneath the train

[harmonica solo]

I changed the name of this town so you can't follow me down
And you can't touch me like before, and you can't make me want you more
I changed the name of this town

I changed the lock on my front door, I changed the number on my phone
I changed the kind of car I drive, I changed the kind of clothes I wear

I changed the tracks underneath the train, I changed the name of this town
I changed the name of this town
I changed the name of this town

I don't want to minimize the quality of the rest of the show but these two songs are going to take awhile to absorb. And she wasn't done yet, as she'll appear again later in the evening to provide the highlight in the second set.

Lucinda Williams - vocals, guitar
Val McCallum - guitar
David Sutton - bass
Butch Norton - Drums

T01 Tears of Joy (from Little Honey, 2008)
T02 Can't Let Go (Randy Weeks)(from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998)
T03 Well Well Well (from Little Honey, 2008)

T04 Drunken Angel (from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998)
T05 Born To Be Loved (from Blessed, 2011)
T06 Blue (from Essence, 2001)
T07 Concrete and Barbed Wire (from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998)
T08 Convince Me (from Blessed, 2011)
T09 Seeing Black (from Blessed, 2011)
T10 Essence (from Essence, 2001)

T11 band intro
T12 Honey Bee (from Little Honey, 2008)
T13 Changed the Locks (from Lucinda Williams, 1988)
T14 encore break
T15 Blessed (from Blessed, 2011)
T16 Joy (from Live at the Fillmore, 2005)

The thing about Levon Helm don't get near enough Levon. If you haven't seen the Ramble yet you should get on your horse and make your way to Woodstock. Seeing this hootenany in Levon's barn is an experience that transcends the evenings agenda. When he goes on the road he isn't shy about bringing quality artists with him but it's not quite the same thing. In fact the buyer should beware. This is not a Band revue, though homage is paid to that part of Levon's career. If you think you're gonna hear hit after hit, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down or Up On Cripple Creek...well, it ain't gonna happen. The center piece of Levon's performance is Ophelia, and it's almost worth the price of admission. (As an aside, Up on Cripple Creek would have been an appropriate song tonight as Lucinda hails from Lake Charles, Louisiana.)He lends some harmonies to a few of the other songs, shares the lead on Dylan's Blind Willie McTell with Larry Campbell and takes a verse or two of The Weight, but other than that it's his mandolin, drums, cheer-leading and sense of bon-vivant that carries the show, not nostalgic renditions of Top 40 hits...and that may not be a bad thing.

It really should be billed as "Ramble on the Road: A Hootenany of American Music, featuring Levon Helm and many special guests." That's not to disparage Levon. This stuff wouldn't be available without him, it's a joy to share his love of this music.

Levon Helm drums, mandolin, vocals
Larry Campbell guitars, vocals
Brian Mitchell keyboards, vocals
Teresa Williams vocals
Amy Helm vocals
Clark Gaydon Trombone
Jay Collins Sax
Stephen Bernstein Trumpet
Eric Lawrence Sax
Howard Johnson Tuba
Byron Isaacs Bass
Jimmy Wieder Guitar
Justin Drums
Disc 1

T01 Intro (John Donabie)
T02 The Shape I'm In (Brian Mitchell vox)
T03 A Whole Lot of Reasons(?)(girls vox)
T04 Little Lost Sheep(?) (girls vox)
T05 Opheilia (Levon vox)
T06 Cyprus Grove (Larry vox)
T07 Ain't That Good News (girls vox, Sam Cooke)
T08 Bourgeois Blues (Brian Mitchell vox, Leadbelly)
T09 Crescent City(Lucinda Williams vox)
T10 Evangeline (Lucinda Williams vox)

Disc 2

T01 Deep Elum Blues (Larry Campbell vox)
T02 All On A Mardi Gras Day (ensemble
T03 Blind Willie McTell (Larry and Levon, vox)
T04 ?Come Home (CW Gatlin vox)
T05 Goin' To Acapulco (Byron Isaacs vox)
T06 Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (girls vox)
T07 some somnambulant hymn type song (girls vox)
T08 When I Go Away
T09 Band Intro
T10 The Weight (ensemble)
T11 encore break
T12 I Shall Be Released (ensemble)


phil said...

hope this link works for your setlist Marcel. Nice to see you're still out there on the road!

All best~Phil

Krewe Chief said...

thanks phil, i hear you're coming up here for a graphic arts convention. Michey was telling us. Cece and I may be in Vancouver at that time but let me know your plans if you can.

Phil said...

Yeah, i'll be up there in the first week of May,i think shoring up at Rick & Meschy's on the 4th-8th right now. I'm sure Mesch will allign our schedules if it's humanly possible. Quite the coordinator is she!