Lucinda Williams at Dakota Jazz Club, 2/20/11

Lucinda Williams
February 20, 2011
Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis

Snowstorms be damned. While over a foot of snow came wafting down from the clouds last night, the Dakota Jazz Club was dry and packed for the first of three sold-out solo performances by Lucinda Williams.

"You guys are great," laughed owner Lowell Pickett, introducing the performers for the evening. "For every person who gave up their seat for tonight's show because of the snow, we had two more dying to take their place."

As the orange flicker of snowplow lights flashed across the back wall of the Dakota's expansive main floor, young Shreveport, Louisiana native Dylan LeBlanc warmed the crowd with a set of sparse, somber alt-country ballads. It was LeBlanc's second time playing in the Cities, his first appearance taking place only a few weeks prior when he opened for Lissie at the Cedar Cultural Center, and it was clear from his shy stage presence and reserved mumbling between songs that the 20-year-old Rough Trade signee is still adjusting to life as a performer. Nonetheless, his voice had an otherworldly quality to it that caught the audience's attention, and his songs had an underlying eeriness to them that was reminiscent of a solo performance by Ryan Adams or, as my date suggested, maybe Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes.

Dylan LeBlanc
Dylan LeBlanc

After a brief break, Lucinda Williams emerged with such unassuming fanfare that it took a minute for the crowd to quiet down. "Y'all can keep on talkin' and drinkin' if you want," deadpanned Williams. "I don't mind."

And just like that, the crowd was hers.

Williams took advantage of the rare solo performance to talk at length with the audience, setting up almost every song with some back story or context. At one point, while setting up "Metal Firecracker," she told the whole sordid tale of her love affair and breakup with the former bass player who inspired the song. "I may as well just start saying all this stuff," she said, shaking her head mid-saga. "It's either that, or save it for my memoirs."

Armed with only an acoustic guitar and a three-ring binder full of lyrics, Williams wielded her voice like a weapon, cutting through the air and allowing it to fill the entire room, then reigning it back in when it was almost too much to bear. The flawless sound system only served to further accentuate every scoff and crack in her vocal delivery, like punctuation marks at the ends of her lines of lyrics about heartbreak and desire.

Lucinda Williams at Dakota Jazz Club, 2/20/11

Lucinda's set was heavy on new material from her soon-to-be-released album, Blessed ("It's Blessed, not Bless-ed," she stressed), but with a whopping 20 songs in her main set and another four in the encore, it gave her plenty of time to pluck out songs from throughout her lengthy career. Actually, she managed to squeeze in seven of the 13 tracks from her first commercially successful album, 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, compared to just five from Blessed.

For the encore, she brought out Minnesota native (and current Austin, Texas resident) Randy Weeks, who wrote "Can't Let Go" from Car Wheels, and his moaning and chugging electric guitar accompaniments quickened the pace and made for an energized conclusion to a night of pensive and soul-baring songcraft.

Lucinda Williams at Dakota Jazz Club, 2/20/11

Personal bias: I'd never seen Lucinda live, but I've been a fan of her music for at least a decade.
The crowd: Prim and proper, a stark contrast to Williams' gritty tales.
Overheard in the crowd: The clinking of wine glasses and silverware as people finished their dinners during the performance; some heartfelt but off-tempo clapping during "Can't Let Go."
Random notebook dump: "My band is starting to get worried." -- Williams, talking about how much she has enjoyed playing solo for a change.
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Tony Nelson.

Set List:
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Memphis Pearl
Port Arthur (tribute to Janis Joplin)
Lake Charles
Crescent City
I Don't Know How You're Living
Ugly Truth
Somebody Somewhere (Don't Know What He's Missing Tonight) (Loretta Lynn, written by Lola Jean Dillon)
Metal Firecracker
Concrete and Barbed Wire
Kiss Like Your Kiss
Lonely Girls
Side of the Road
Born to Be Loved

Encore (with Randy Weeks on electric guitar):
Something About What Happens When We Talk
Can't Let Go
Changed the Locks

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