Lucinda Williams – O2 Academy, Bristol

My third and final Colston Hall presents at as part of River Town festival gig. In a venue I’ve not set in for a long time.

The last time I was at the 02 was probably 10 years ago. I have a deep dislike of all the 02 chain venues. They are generally overcrowded, overpriced and with terrible sound. The latter of which bugs the hell outta me as the main freaking thing I want a venue to get right is the sound! I have turned down amazing gigs at the 02 Academy in Bristol on this basis (Mercury Rev with an orchestra, Kamasi Washington etc) and will, wherever possible catch an artist in another city rather than set foot in the 02. However, Lucinda wasn’t playing another date I could make and so I had to put on my big girls pants and woman up. And I am glad I did. The layout is still awful and the overcrowding (even for this, a not sold out show) in evidence BUT they have sorted out the sound. The sound and lighting were no better or worse than anywhere else I have been. Hooray! I might, just might, be able to see gigs there again.

I was lucky enough to find a little space up on the balcony at the front so that I had clear view of the stage. How much I would have enjoyed that experience if it were crowded up there and people were jostling behind me I cannot say but for this gig it was a great spot.

There was no support act. Lucinda and her band were playing the whole of the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album in full as the first set, and then some other choice tracks for the shorter second set. I confess it is not an album I am familiar with, Sweet Old World is more the one I know, but Lucinda is a legend in country music circles and I knew whatever she sang it would be worth hearing. One of country blues musics’ grand dames, with Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams has been around the block more time than most and you will know her music even if you think you don’t. She was attracted to music through poetry, and it shows in the stories she tells in her songs.

As this was a full album retrospective we were treated to long, sometimes scripted and other times wandering, tales of the songs as well as a top notch slide show of photographs and handwritten lyric sheets in the background. Some of the stories were touching, others funny, hearing her bashfully talk about the men who she foolishly fell for (she has a reputation for having a thing for bass players. I hear you, Lucinda, I hear you) was very endearing. The tracks about him were among my favourites, they were far too relatable, so many of us women have been turned over by a shitty man, that any woman singing about it (and coming out of it triumphantly) is bound to hit a nerve.

Of the songs in the second set I really liked the new one, Bone of Contention, which was full of fury at the current US President; the drummer got so passionate in his playing he lost a stick. “I know you all got troubles of your own over here” made it highly, if sadly relatable .”In radicalised times, you gotta be radical you know” amen, Lucinda.

The encore was almost the best part, a wonderous cover of Should I Go Or Should I Stay by the Clash and a snippet of Walk on the Wild Side in Righteously were ace. Yes, the voice has aged, but given that it is singing country and blues, genres where you want to hear the experience in the voice, it only adds to the songs. Gravely, deep and not at all pretty it suits the down and dirty music perfectly. For too many years I dismissed country as hokey and boring, it is not. It is white working class soul, blues and folk. It is music about things that matter; love, hope and redemption. Universal themes and ones we need now more than ever.

Lucinda Williams was excellent and I am very, very glad that I took the chance and ventured back into the 02 Academy. If I hadn’t I would have missed one of country blues finest.

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