Dallas The goosebumps materialized early Tuesday night.
Lucinda Williams was only four songs into the first of two sold-out sets at the Kessler Theater, but working in tandem with guitarist Doug Pettibone, she conjured magic. The 59-year-old Williams (she turns 60 on Jan. 26) was working through the evocative Bus to Baton Rouge, from her 2001 LP Essence. Her hollowed out, aching alto coupled with Pettibone's ghostly guitar lines and the lyrical visions of a soul's excavation, and set against the room's attentive stillness was mesmerizing.
Williams felt the Kessler's mojo too: "This is the perfect kind of venue," she remarked mere minutes after taking the stage. "You can sit down and order a drink -- I love it. This is now one of my favorite venues." Indeed, her two-night stand at the Kessler is her most intimate set of shows in North Texas to date. (After stints at the Granada and Billy Bob's Texas, perhaps she's found a permanent tour stop?)
The pair of performances (her second stop at the Kessler comes Friday) is part of a month-long national run before Williams heads back into the studio to start work on the follow-up to 2011's Blessed. The singer-songwriter aired out a few works in progress Tuesday, including Place in My Heart and a brooding epic titled Something Wicked This Way Comes (which Williams said may turn up on ABC's popular series Nashville).
Over the course of two hours, rock, folk, country and the blues happily collided, as they so often do in the Louisiana native's work. The prevailing mood was pensive, but only musically. In between songs, Williams was loose and affable, relaying a dryly funny story about her mother's funeral (which came on the heels of the exquisitely rendered Fancy Funeral) and offering a brief soliloquy on the late Texas great Blaze Foley.
A few covers found their way into the set, including a take on Bob Dylan's Trying to Get to Heaven (it took Williams and Pettibone a couple tries to get the song started, as both appeared to be slightly fuzzy on the exact chords) and Hank Williams' Cold Cold Heart. Most of the focus, however, was on her own, extensive catalog and the wealth of extraordinary material it contains.
Whether it was a stirring reading of Drunken Angel (which Williams allowed could be about another Texas icon, Fort Worth's Townes Van Zandt) or the evening's roaring opener, Can't Let Go, Williams was in full command of her craft throughout the night.
Tuesday night's show was the sort of live music experience that, for those fortunate enough to be inside the Kessler's walls, well ... it gives you goosebumps.