Much of Lucinda Williams' catalogue explores the depths of pain and loss, be it in alternative country, folk, or blues fusion form. While she does have some up tempo tracks in her catalogue (often of the bawdy, blues-influenced variety) her best songs usually find her describing misery of some kind. It's the sort of thing that makes her one of the best songwriters in the world, but could threaten to make an evening of her music a less than thrilling night out.
Despite the sadness the underlines many of Williams' best tracks, I've never seen her music as something you'd play to cry along to. Instead, it's what you play when you're all cried out, and either numb from the pain, or finished with being sad and ready to be a little angry. It makes some of her albums the perfect accompaniment to a quiet evening of brooding (whether or not you have something to brood over. I often like to live vicariously through other people's misery in the place of any of my own), but I wasn't sure it would work as well as an evening surrounded by strangers looking to clap and cheer.
When the show began, Williams wasn't quick to appease these doubts. After a quiet acoustic version of "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad" with only guitarist Doug Pettibone as accompaniment, she launched into cuts from her new album Little Honey with the rest of her backing band joining in (the band goes by the name Buick 6, who did double-duty as the warm-up act of the show with a mostly instrument set). For the first couple songs following "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad", Williams was without an instrument of her own (besides her distinctive voice), and seemed a little unsure of what to do (you know, besides sing).
It was hard to tell if it was simply early show nerves, a lack of comfort with her newer tracks (she had a binder with her on stage on a stool that seemed to have the lyrics or something on it), or simply not knowing what to do with her hands without a guitar to hold on to. Despite her uneasy stage presence, she was still nailing the songs (suggesting that she knows the words just fine, and either uses the binder just in case — she has written a lot of songs after all — or maybe it had other things in it). But it did leave me wondering if her music is just a little too intimate and personal to properly experience in such crowded circumstances.