Philadelphia, last stop on my 2002 Lucinda concert odyssey! I had taken Monday and Tuesday off from work, with the plan of staying over Monday night and driving home to Long Island Tuesday afternoon after a good night's sleep. I didn't buy a ticket for Tuesday night's show when it was announced since I'm running low on vacation time, but remembering my inability to stay away from the Central Park performance on a weeknight, the first thing I told my friend and fellow Lunatic Rhonda when arriving in town was NOT to let me stay for Tuesday night's show. I knew that the Theatre of the Living Arts, a small mostly stand-up General Admission venue with a bar, was Lu's kind of place and I anticipated this show being the culmination of my 4-show Summer of 2002 Lucinda tour, the previous three shows all being outdoor venues (and while I'm thinking of it, many thanks to my dear non-alt-country wife for her exceptional if non-comprehending patience with me these past 10 days).
After checking into the Holiday Inn near the stadium early Monday afternoon, I grabbed a cab downtown to meet Rhonda at her hotel, and we walked down to the end of South Street in sweltering heat. July 22 was my birthday (turning 49 six months behind Lucinda), so Rhonda kindly insisted on buying me lunch at Downey's restaurant. After some fish & chips and a couple of beers, I decided we should buy a bouquet of flowers for Lucinda - we do love her dearly, and anything to tip the scales in favor of her being in a good mood for the show can't hurt. I had brought my Essence CD in case I got lucky and could get an autograph, so we asked the florist if they had the flowers on the cover. They didn't, but we had them put together what we thought was an attractive bouquet and dropped it off at TLA to give to Lucinda.
Next stop was Blarney's Grill a couple of doors down from the theatre to have a beer and wait for the line to start forming. Soon after we sat down, our friend and fellow Lunatic Matt from Pittsburgh arrived after a five-hour drive, and soon after that, who steps into the bar but Doug Pettibone with a slice of Philadelphia's finest pizza, which he decided to wash down with a Guinness. I greeted him and reminded him we'd met at the Oyster Bay show ("you know, the guy taking the pictures") and he smiled and said he hoped I could get some more photos tonight, confirming that Lu doesn't mind being photographed. I've been trying to figure out what the hell was in that Guinness ever since watching him perform later that evening.
We got in line about 6:00 with just a few people ahead of us, where we met Sven from Dallas who had come in for the singer/songwriter festival over the weekend and decided to see Lucinda while he was in town. Roger the travelling super-fan soon arrived from Dover, where he'd spent some time between shows after Oyster Bay. Taras had put Roger on the guest list since the TLA shows were sold out. At 7:00 the staff let us through the doors, and we headed straight for the stage where we grabbed spots up front slightly right of center.
Chuck Prophet and his band started promptly at 8:00 and did their usual terrific and upbeat set, and Roger confessed to a growing attraction to Chuck's lovely wife Stephanie Finch. Having seen them perform twice before in the past week, I said "Hi Stephanie" when she walked out to the keyboards just to let her know they had fans in the house, and she smiled. Unfortunately the stage lighting at TLA was pretty awful, the spots were very weak and the backlighting was intense. I wasn't gonna shoot off my flash in the performers' faces from six feet away, so I apologize for the generally poor quality of the photos from this show.
After a half-hour or so for breaking down Prophet's equipment, lighting the incense and candles, and a final sound check, Lucinda came out with the band. I can't even begin to describe what I saw and heard on that stage Monday night. Granted I was feeling pretty good after half a dozen beers over the course of the day and being six feet away from Lucinda on my birthday with other people who understand what it means to really love her, but I still feel that show was the best concert I've ever had the privilege to witness, and I've seen quite a few starting way back with Woodstock '69. After the usual somewhat stiff start, Lucinda quickly loosened up and was by far in the best mood I've yet seen her in my 7 shows to date. The sound was great and Lu was clearly enjoying herself, and as we all know, when Lucinda's happy... The band was absolutely on fire, Taras and Christie were kicking up the beat like no one's business, and (as I told him later) I really don't think I've ever seen anyone play guitar any better than Pettibone did that night, and that includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman. As for Lucinda herself, well... happy f---ing birthday to me, I was in heaven. She sang every song like an angel (or sultry temptress or rock 'n roll animal etc), and toward the end of the set she was laughing, hugging the band members who she introduced as "the Love Band", thanking everyone in her road crew, wiggling her ass and even doing wah-wah guitar effects with her voice. The new songs, some of which were already starting to feel like dear old friends, were incredibly moving and beautiful, and she sang the older material with abundant spirit and conviction. By the time she got to the second encore, she was just wailing on "Atonement" (my first exposure to that one) with an absolutely awesome intensity and stomping her foot in Joplin-esque style. When it all finally ended with a great performance of Come to Me Baby and Lu exiting with a huge smile stage left, we just stood in front of the stage in shock for a while at what we'd just witnessed. Even Roger, who had seen 21 of Lucinda's shows by that point, agreed it was up there with the best of them.
After hanging around outside for a while hoping to say hi to Lucinda, we eventually deduced she'd probably been spirited away from the theatre in a car, and we went back to our hotels to sleep. After that show, despite my resolve I knew I was gonna have to stay for Tuesday's performance and just work the following day on a few hours' sleep after driving home from Philly afterwards. The next day we again convened near the theatre at lunchtime, and this time Rhonda thought it would be nice to get flowers for "the Love Band" as well as for Chuck Prophet and his crew, who had performed so wonderfully each time we saw them. We dropped off the bouquets and again stopped in at Blarney's, this time seeing no sign of the band before the show. Matt had to go home to Pittsburgh the night before, but Sven soon arrived and we again got on line around 6:00, where I was soon able to scalp a ticket for less than what those brazen thieves at Ticketmaster would have charged me.
We again got in around 7:00. This night the management wasn't allowing any cameras in the place and I had to check mine coming in, protests notwithstanding. Again we staked out spots right in front of the stage, this time a little left of center. Chuck Prophet and the band again started promptly, treating us to some songs we hadn't heard at previous shows. After the set was done and their equipment cleared and the final soundcheck done for Lu's band, the candles remained unlit, a rather ominous sign. We could see Pettibone backstage, but no sign of Lucinda. The theatre was totally packed and the crowd began to grow impatient. Lu's tour manager came out on stage and looked over the crowd with a concerned look on his face, clearly a bad sign. At that point it occurred to me that he may have barred the cameras that night, although I don't know if that's true or not. We all looked at each other knowing what all this probably meant - Lu was in a funk. Eventually Jeff the guitar tech came out and lit the candles, and then another wait.
Close to an hour after Prophet left the stage, Lu finally came out. No semblance of a smile, no "hey everybody", in fact it seemed like she threw something toward the back of the stage in a fury when she went to pick up her guitar. She came up to the mike and they launched into Crescent City. Despite the grim demeanor, Lu sang like she meant it and the band was again playing well, and we whooped and yelled in support. But she continued on, unsmiling and agitated and talking intensely at some length with the band members between songs, well into the set before she thankfully elected to share with us what was on her mind. She was pissed off about something written about her in the press which she felt stereotyped her as a songwriter obsessed with losers, and made no attempt to hide her anger and frustration. The only thing I've seen myself recently was a favorable but woefully superficial & inaccurate appraisal of her new songs in the NY Daily News that appeared last Friday after her performance in Central Park, which contained the following passages: [With titles such as "The Sweet Side," "American Dream," "Over Time" and "Those Three Days," Williams described a rugged menagerie of ripped-up hearts, down-and-out losers and tough guys who turn her on. Williams is renowned for taking years to generate new songs, so the nine tunes that she played in her 105-minute set seemed like an abundance of riches.] [She said that "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" was influenced by former Replacement Paul Westerberg and dedicated it to the late Who bassist John Entwistle. With yet another paean to a burned-out musician - like the earlier "Drunken Angel" - Williams seemed to relish her attraction to men who leave her miserable.] I really have no idea if this article was the stimulus for her obviously foul mood, but she did make explicit reference to being fed up with the press describing her songs as all being about how she's attracted to losers and obsessing about her taking so long to make albums, and then she introduced her powerful new song "Sweet Side" by saying "This is a song about f---ing child abuse, all right?". She also got down on herself when mentioning that singer/songwriter Linda Thompson was at the show, comparing her own "rock road voice" unfavorably to Linda's (at which point I had to object and yell up that she sounded great), and at one point late in the show she launched into a scathing indictment of her ex-hometown of Nashville.
There was no laughing, wiggling, hugging or thanking the road crew at Tuesday's show! However, while somewhat unsettling to watch as the band and crew attempted to cope with the unhappy disposition of our beloved woman-child, Lu managed to focus her negative energy into a very emotionally charged (if angry) performance which I enjoyed nearly as much as the ebullient masterpiece of the previous night, and I felt very proud of her for that. She sang beautifully and with feeling the entire set despite seeming not happy about being on stage, and she especially nailed the hard rockers like "Changed the Locks" and "Joy" with a fierce abandon. We were close enough to see the original set list, and tellingly, she made a few changes, skipping over "I Lost It", swapping in a gorgeous and achingly heartfelt rendition of "Lonely Girls" for the new song "Minneapolis" to open the first encore, and opening the second with another blistering & soulful performance of her new song "Atonement" (which savagely rips apart the hypocrisy of organized religion), something clearly in synch with her mood, instead of singing the originally planned "I Envy the Wind". I suppose she felt she had something to prove, and she made her point very eloquently. All in all I felt it was a truly inspiring performance, and speaking for myself, the woman is damn sexy when she's mad! The band was once again in great form, and Pettibone peeled off a solo during Come to Me Baby that I will never forget.
I felt my two days in Philly were a very fitting conclusion to my ten-day five-show tour, admirably capsulizing the emotional ups and downs of being a Lucinda fan - I can only imagine what it must be like to live inside her hypersensitive skin. At the end of the day, it's just an incredible privilege to be able to hear what comes out of that heart and that throat when she opens her mouth. I'm already suffering from post-concert depression and can't get the new songs (especially Ventura) out of my head, I suppose I'll survive somehow until Lu picks a producer, records the new songs and gets the album out early next year.
The set lists:
Monday, July 22 [Heaven]
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Out Of Touch
2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
I Lost It
Those Three Days (new)
Fruits Of My Labor (new)
Changed The Locks
American Dream (new)
Get Right With God
Passionate Kisses (solo acoustic)
Over Time (new)
Real Live Bleeding Fingers & Broken Guitar Strings (new)
Come To Me Baby
Tuesday, July 23 [Hell]
Out of Touch
Are You Down
Reason to Cry
Sweet Side (new)
Fruits of my Labor (new)
Changed the Locks
American Dream (new)
Get Right with God
Something About What Happens When We Talk
Real Live Bleeding Fingers & Broken Guitar Strings (new)
Come to Me Baby