SUMMER OF '98. SEATTLE. My college roommate and I are at the annual "Fourth of Jul-Ivar's" Independence Day celebration at Myrtle Edwards Park. We wander, bored, past food vendors and screeching diaper-clad toddlers. There's a band playing in the distance: someone named Lucinda Williams and some backup musicians. "I've heard of this lady," I say. "She's got some big album out; Car Tires on Asphalt, or something like that." We listen. Lucinda and Co. launch into "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," the title track off the aforementioned album. We listen to its crunchy lick, its infectious chorus. "I want some fish and chips," my friend says. We turn and wander off again.
Today. Winter of '06. I'm listening, at my desk, to Williams' latest release, 2005's double album, Live @ the Fillmore. And I'm kicking myself. Hard. Because this set—recorded over three nights in San Francisco circa November 2003—verifies a notion I've been considering for some time now. In the years since ignorantly abandoning the one chance I've ever had to see her play, I've actually listened to Williams' recordings, and like every other critic in the world, fallen in love with her unique brand of rock-fried country and scalpel-precise songwriting. I've known for some time I made a mistake that Fourth of July eight years ago, but I had not understood the full extent of it until this moment.
Listening to Williams in concert—not so much singing as attacking gorgeous numbers like "Essence" and "Ventura"; crushing her voice against "Joy"'s ferocious chorus—it's all too clear that I didn't just walk away from the next hot critical darling. I turned my back on a burgeoning legend.
Her intimate acoustic performance this week is the kind of make-up opportunity an adoring loser like myself swoons over. It's also sold out, so if you don't have a ticket already, my condolences. At least you're missing it for all the right reasons, and not because an overpriced bucket of fried food is calling you away. n