Lucinda Williams turns in another strong performance for packed festival audience


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Rosemary Welsch, WYEP afternoon host, noted from the stage Saturday night that Paste magazine just rated the Three Rivers Arts Festival the No. 1 small-scale music festival.

A magazine for adult rock tastes, Paste certainly adores festival opener Jeff Tweedy as well as Saturday night's headliner Lucinda Williams, the Leading Lady of alt-country.

Making her first visit to Point State Park since 2003, she was greeted by a huge, attentive crowd and, prompted by Ms. Welsch, a chorus of "Lu's."

"Thank you for the Lu's," she said. "The only other person who got the Lou's was Lou Reed, so it's an honor."

This one's the same ol' Lu, with her tousled blonde hair, ripped jeans and that one-of-a-kind slow, lazy drawl that cuts right through you with all the heartbreak and longing.

This being a tighter festival set, it was all killer, starting with twangy roadhouse rocker "Can't Let Go." Flipping through her now standard sheet music, she followed with all the brilliant Triple-A hits: "Metal Firecracker," "Drunken Angel," "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" and "I Lost It," among them (but no "Passionate Kisses").

She has a history of luring great guitarists to her side. Three years ago at Stage AE she had young gun Blake Mills. This time it was Stuart Mathis, who sounded hotter than he does with The Wallflowers, bringing a thick Neil Young-like tone and venturing into some wicked jams with her crack rhythm section of bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton, particularly on the jazz-reggae groove of "Are You Down" and a stomping "Joy."

Lu's voice and elongated delivery might not be for all tastes, but she blew the room away with "Changed the Locks," infused with an extra shot of hurt and menace -- "I'll change the name of this town!" she cried over and over -- and "Honey Bee" was a beauty.

Although it's always a rousing closer, she should leave "Rockin' in a Free World" to Neil and Pearl Jam, as it was a bit all over the place vocally, but she did finish strong with the encore "Get Right With God," bursting into a gospel climax.

The one new song, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," didn't quite live up to the billing on first listen, but with "Where the Spirit Meets the Bone" coming in September, we have a new chapter to look forward to from the alt-country queen.

SET LIST:

Can't Let Go

Metal Firecracker

Crescent City

Drunken Angel

People Talkin'

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

World Without Tears

I Lost It

Are You Down

Out of Touch

Changed the Locks

Something Wicked this Way Comes

Joy

Honey Bee

Righteously

Rockin' in a Free World

Encore:

Get Right with God

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.


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