Greeting the aud with an energetic, friendly wave, Lucinda Williams was in particularly good spirits at the Wiltern Theater Friday night. A sometimes prickly performer, Williams was all smiles, a mood that reflected this year’s “Little Honey” (Lost Highway), the happiest, most contented album of her career.
But her upbeat attitude did not translate into a fully satisfying performance. For all her verbal enthusiasm, Williams seemed a little fatigued. A good deal of the blame could be placed on scheduling; this was the last show of a two-month tour. And Williams’ voice sounded more weathered that usual — her tone scuffed, the edges frayed. Never the most precise of singers — she’s better at nailing an emotion than a note — she makes the vocal roughness work, adding a weary knowingness to “Happy Woman Blues” and the caustic stroll “Well Well Well,” both performed early in the show.
But after the half-hour point, the performances of “Real Love” and “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings” lacked punch. Some ballads dragged as well: “Little Rock Star” was as unsteady on it’s feet as the self-destructive performer it’s dedicated to, and her phrasing on “Tears of Joy” was so far behind the beat, her vocal felt like ballast dragging down the song.
If time on the road has worn Williams down, it had the opposite effect on her band, Buick Six. They’re a well-oiled, flexible unit, taking on the throttled country boogie of “Can’t Let Go,” the bluesy crunch of “Change the Locks” and the Dylanesque pop of “Metal Firecracker.” (Their opening instrumental set shows off both their versatility and limitations; a studied cover of Led Zeppelin’s “White Dog” got every note right but missed the song’s unfettered power. But they easily inhabited Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl, with Susannah Hoffs and Matthew Sweet on vocals.)
A raucous reading of “Honey Bee” gave Williams a second wind, which carried over into the encore’s psychedelic take on Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” a gently lilting take on Jimmy Hendrix’s “Angel” (performed in memory of Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell) and stomping cover of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” which she dedicated to Barack Obama.