I have to confess to being something of a live music junkie, shows I’ve seen running well into the thousands, and with the passage of time details of some of even the best start to become a little hazy. Luckily, as every gig-goer knows, the best gig of your life may well be the next, and Lucinda Williams 20th anniversary tour of her classic album ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ at the Barbican soared straight into my top ten of all time. The jazz drummer who was part of my party pronounced it “the best non-jazz gig he’d ever been to”, praise indeed from him.
The setlist was never in doubt, at least for the first part of the show – the album played from start to finish in sequence, but with each track introduced by Williams, telling the story of how each song was inspired, each illustrated by a backdrop of images, most memorably perhaps the graffiti on a street wall which led to the birth of ‘2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten’.
Tales of disappointment in love have always featured large in Williams repertoire, and ‘Metal Firecracker’ was revealed to be the tour bus where an on-road relationship was to crash and burn as the trip came to its end, with its memorable refrain “all I ask /don’t tell anybody the secrets I told you”.
Williams has often been an anxious performer, but here she was at her most comfortable and self-assured, the stories between each song bringing an intimacy to the set. After a short break she and the band were back for a second set of songs from throughout her back catalogue, from ‘Changed the Locks’, from her 1988 album ‘Lucinda Williams’, to an atmospheric rendition of ‘Ghosts of Highway 20’, title track from her 2016 album.
Backing band Buick 6 band were on great form. Drummer Butch Norton, bassist David Sutton and guitarist Stuart Mathis were faithful to the album’s arrangements, while still allowed room to rock out on ‘Joy’, where Mathis seamlessly added the classic ‘Voodoo Chile’ riff to his extended guitar solo, and bringing a fresh approach to the songs featured in the second half of the show.
Hard to pick highlights from such a great show–Williams and her band were on stage for two and a half hours–but the show-closing encore ‘Get Right With God’ was a worthy and storming finish to the show, which was indeed a night to remember.