Silence isn’t often associated with rock concerts: they’re supposed to be loud, soundtracked by singalongs and stomping feet. But last night at London’s Barbican Centre, Lucinda Williams proved that a hushed crowd – save a smattering of applause as each song drew to a close, or a shout of “We love you, Lucinda!” – could be just as golden.
The Louisiana-born singer-songwriter has flirted with rock, blues, country and folk over her 45-year career. She’ll turn 70 on Thursday, but has lost none of her bite: she still looks like your archetypal rock star, dressed in scuffed Converse, denim jeans and an embellished black overshirt, her signature white wolf-cut framing her face. Even the stroke she suffered in 2020, which has left her unable to play guitar – “temporarily”, she defiantly insists – has had no tangible effect on the raw majesty of her voice. Her backing band, Buick 6, complemented her with sprawling guitar and bass solos and electrifying drums, creating a wall of sound so harmonious that it was easy to forget that this quartet and their singer only joined forces, at most, a decade ago.
Opening with Can’t Let Go from 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Williams retains the swagger that saw her land three Grammys, and win fans from Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris to the late David Crosby. Her deep vocals roared in that loaded opener, articulating her refusal to stop performing: “Well it’s over, I know it / But I can’t let go”. Stolen Moments, meanwhile, penned for Tom Petty in 2020, is laden with grief for not just the artist but a vanished friend. Friends who are still with her continue to inspire her, too – Bruce Springsteen’s openness around his struggles with mental health resonate with Williams, particularly (she tells the audience) on Big Black Train, a song about running away from depression.
Williams added from the stage that her father, the poet Miller Williams, apologised to her after seeing her perform Car Wheels on a Gravel Road at the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville: he thought her upbringing had failed her. People and place have always been common themes in her music, and You Can’t Rule Me was here sung as a metaphorical middle-finger to the US Supreme Court, for their decision to overturn Roe v Wade in 2022, after saying in a recent interview that the decision had inspired her to play the song live. Leaving the stage of the brutalist hall to a standing ovation, Williams proved that there’s no age limit on rock ’n’ roll. Here’s to decades more.
Touring until Jan 26, then abroad. Tickets: lucindawilliams.com