"Tryin' so hard to be a happy woman," Lucinda Williams sang on the title song to her 1980 album and again Friday night at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Looks like she finally made it.
Besides kicking off her "30th Anniversary Tour" - which is not scheduled to come through Texas as yet, but it's hard to believe someone who lived in both Houston and Austin around the time of "Happy Woman" won't bring it here eventually - Williams married her former producer and fiancee of a few years, Tom Overby, onstage between the main set and encore.
Before things got all matrimonial, though, Williams and her crack band Buick 6 treated the friends, family and fans at the packed, legendary Twin Cities venue - site of the Revolution/Time face-off in Purple Rain and perhaps a little bigger than Warehouse Live - to a chronological cherry-picking of her formidable catalog, from 1979's Ramblin' (reissued this year by Evangeline) through last year's Little Honey.
Whether covers or originals, almost all of the Louisiana-bred Williams' songs are autobiographical in some way, but the ones she picked out for Friday's set seemed especially so. Whether illuminating her influences (Robert Johnson's "Stop Breakin' Down," also not the last we would hear of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street) her own origins ("Lafayette"), a performer praised and beloved for her cut-to-the-bone lyrics played what, with good reason, was probably the most personal and meaningful set of her life.
Obviously, Williams chose Friday's songs with her impending nuptials in mind, and not just the selections from Little Honey, which is pretty much all about Overby - Executive Producer of her previous album, 2007's West - and the source of Friday's feral blues "Honey Bee" and tender, self-explanatory "Plan to Marry." A spirited "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad," simmering, sexually charged (moreso than usual, that is) "Joy" and purring "Righteously" especially stood out. So did brawny, seething kiss-off "I Changed the Locks," which Aftermath is just going to assume she put in the set purely for history's sake - but it was an ideal way to show that although Williams' songs are steeped in country, folk and blues, she's a rocker (and a fierce one) at heart.
One more thing before we get to the wedding: As someone who doesn't know Williams' three pre-Little Honey albums - Essence (2001), World Without Tears (2003) and West quite as well as Sweet Old World, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Honey, we were especially knocked out by all the songs from those albums, but especially Essence's aching "Out of Touch" and an absolutely scorching version of West's "Come On" that had to have left a few "Real Life Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings" (another winner, from World Without Tears) within Buick 6, who were spot-on all night.
As the audience's ears were still ringing from "Honey Bee," Buick 6 left the stage and Williams' and Overby's families - probably the only people in the building dressed more for church than a rock show - filed on, as did a real, honest-to-God preacher. (Pardon the pun.) Williams' dad, former U.S. poet laureate Miller Williams, read his poem "The Caterpillar,"
which, as he pointed out, contains perhaps his daughter's first lyrical triumph - she supplied him with the last line, "I think he thought he was going in a straight line."
Williams and Overby said their vows, the preacher pronounced them man and wife, and the happy couple kissed as the crowd cheered and confetti rained down. Overby stayed onstage and even strapped on a guitar to join his brand-new bride and Buick 6 in a rousing encore of the Rolling Stones' "Happy" and AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)." It was hard to imagine a more perfect pairing - "Happy" captured the giddiness of the room to a T, while "Long Way" was a cathartic reminder of Williams' long, often arduous journey to such a joyous moment.
Friday may not have been a teenage wedding, but the old folks - and everybody else - definitely wished them well. Hear hear. Williams may have been the one getting married, but she and Buick 6 gave everyone at First Avenue the present of one absolutely killer rock and roll show.