With slithery bayou-call vocals. Louisiana country-blues singer Lucinda Williams animated her new double-disc, Live at the Fillmore, before a packed house of adoring fans at the Beacon Theatre Thursday night.
Always a writer first, Williams is frequently erratic in performance, yet her fans are forgiving, willing to applaud even when she croaks instead of croons.
At this show, she did a little of both, but with a handful of new songs she has road-testing, cache of well-loved classics and a little help from wannabe twanger Elvis Costello, Williams put on a winning concert of outlaw country.
The combination of Williams and Costello was unexpected and outstanding, one of those fleeting moments in music you want to savor. Hopefully, the pair of songs they performed together has been captured and will he released as on iTunes.
In his signature specs and a black cowboy shirt. Costello accompanied Williams' wail through the fell-out-of-love moaner "Changed the Locks." Costello burned through the song's guitar licks while trading verses with her about how to leave an ex in the dust. They created unforgettable sexual tension.
The pairing on that one demanded that Williams cajole Costello back onstage to play an encore with her a half-hour later. For that, they offered an unrecorded new song called "Jailhouse Tears," an old-school Nashville, George Jones-Tammy Wynette, he-said-she-said duet sung through prison bars.
Accompanied by her three-man back-up band featuring guitarist Doug Pettibone, Williams did OK without her guest star on the smooth "Fruits of My Labor," which was made better by Pettibone' wispy pedal steel guitar work, and the rocking "Real live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings."
When she didn't force her voice into rasp and relaxed. Williams was outstanding.
On "Ventura," it was easy to adore her when she sang, gently pleading to "get swallowed up in an ocean of love."
When she really pushed her voice in a wide-mouth assaults, her tones grated like nails on slate.
But hard-core Williams fans didn't seem to notice as they grooved in their seats, occasionally giving the singer a standing ovation.
Williams deserved the cheers she got for another new tune, "What It" powered by saucy clever wordplay that ignited both cheers and laughter from the house.
Williams' music has heartbreak and humor — kind of like life — and that's why this 52-year-old musician is so revered despite the unevenness of shows that meander from world-weary and dreary to absolutely electric.
Fortunately, at the Beacon, she spent most of the gig completely plugged in.