Lucinda Williams, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London W12 | Rock review

O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London W12
There's little light and shade, just ever louder squalls of guitar, says Neil Spencer

Three numbers into her set, Lucinda Williams is not a happy woman, upset by the flicker of phone cameras. "I feel I'm in a goldfish bowl," she pouts. "It's not conducive to rock'n'roll." One can almost feel the audience flinch, such is their devotion to a songwriter whose wracked, poetic brand of country rock has made her one of the top stetsons in the Americana saloon. There's no cowboy hat tonight, and the peroxide tresses and skin-tight jeans have given way to shaggy brunette and shapeless black.

Williams's music, at least in performance, has also morphed from scarred introspection into mainstream boogie. Her band, including a couple of ex-Eels, is slick, but after a handful of numbers featuring mandolin and harmonica, there's little light and shade, just ever louder squalls of guitar. The accompaniment is often in the way of vocals that remain a singular mix of slurred melody and bluesy abrasion, perfect for the world-weary songs that made her name and won her Grammies - the likes of "Drunken Angel" and "Change the Locks". She's cheered up on her new album, Little Honey - the declaration of "Real Love" opens the show - though why anyone would pass on a song as achingly tender as "Sweet Old World" for the clumsy kiss-off of "Come On" or the rock clichés of "It's a Long Way to the Top" is a mystery. Williams's country roots are definitely not showing.


Neil Spencer

The GuardianTramp

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