Concert review and setlist: Lucinda Williams occupies St. Louis at the Pageant, Wednesday, October 12
Last night at the Pageant Lucinda Williams apologized for “testifying” after a several minute tirade about how “we’re living in dangerous times” because “they don’t want to help the working” and “they don’t want to help the middle class” and “they are trying to disenfranchise the democrats.”
But that brief foray into the status of our current political climate was the least of her attestations. When she sang, “The whole wide world is falling apart / The whole wide world’s gonna break apart,” she wasn’t talking about the economy. Rather, Lucinda bore witness to something much more fundamental, more universal.
Last night Williams held her audience captive preaching about heartbreak — “Blood spilled out from the hole in [her] heart / Over the strings of [her] guitar.” “I have suffered and I’ve cried myself to sleep,” she announced. “Livin’ is full of misery and pain,” she declared.
That wasn’t the end of her proclamation, however. Lucinda was not simply going to sit “alone in the corner chair” — no, she was not going to let us stand at a cool distance, watching from behind a barricade. “Don’t make me sit all alone and cry,” she insisted. Being there required sharing in that suffering. Lucinda called for each one of us to “climb all the way inside / [her] tragedy.” A true egalitarian, she demanded involvement, inclusiveness.
And together we stood, among lost lovers, missed opportunities, failed attempts, every individual feeling deeply his or her own “raw and exposed … shattered nerves.” Together we listened, all there “to help each other ease the pain.”
As if her demonstration achieved its aims, there was no unequal distribution of suffering among fans last night. “Something” indeed was “happening here.” But it wasn’t sad or painful; rather, there was beauty in the “ugly truth”; love in the suffering, a quiet peace amid the rage. Maybe the point was that she’s “been shot and didn’t fall down.” Whatever the animus, we were all there feeling that contradiction of being “blessed by the prisoner / Who knew how to be free… / By the little innocent baby / Who taught us the truth.” We stood as individuals, but together, not alone. In spite of the suffering, “[We'll] live on… and [we'll] be strong.”
Lucinda played for two solid hours — just her, her guitar, her accompanying musicians, a simple reddish glow on the stage. There were no stage theatrics, no costumes, no shouts or rants or hoopla. It was just a modest demonstration made up of honest singing and a room full of dedicated fans; a quiet protest against suffering and a restrained demand for emotional transformation.
Lucinda’s motive seemed to be to ensure that no single person suffered alone or more than another — neither she nor anyone else. Her theory of justice was in the true Benthamite vein: If the purpose of government is to promulgate legislation to protect citizens from experiencing more pain than pleasure, then Lucinda was the law last night.
Indeed, excising her pain and ours and transforming it into something else through the beauty and truth of her music, she regulated the suffering. Through her singing, she promoted the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
Lucinda closed the night protesting, “I have not come… to testify / About our bad, bad misfortune…” Well, maybe. Here songs of suffering were not gratuitous, and suffer we did not. But she did indeed testify — her meaning ran deeper than her mere words. Last night, Lucinda took the stage to both start and end a revolution. We aired our complaints, and she led the social reform we so desperately needed.
Can’t Let Go
Price to Pay
Stowaway in Your Heart (new song, next album)
Where is My Love
Born to Be Loved
Trying to Get to Heaven (Bob Dylan)
Steal Your Love
Changed the Locks
It’s Not My Cross to Bear (Allman Brothers Band)
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)