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Live review: Lucinda Williams and JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys at the Queen Mary

August 27, 2010 |  1:24 pm

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For admirers of guitar-slinging songwriters with soaring, husky voices and deep catalogs about the inevitable appeal of untenable men, Thursday night’s concert beside the Queen Mary presented a potential dream team. Blues-country maverick Lucinda Williams proffered a tour of her tough-nailed songs, letting fans vote for their favorite on Facebook.

Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders — the three-decade rock veteran whom Lucinda said on stage was a major influence on her — opened for Williams, performing with members of her new group, JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys. Both women have devoted fan bases who appreciate their icons’ ability to write about life without rose-colored lenses; to hit the high notes, and the low, in singular, Auto-Tune-free voices; to drink, carouse, joke and rock as hard as the boys with whom they play; and to survive various meltdowns — personal, global, economic, technological — with their senses of humor intact.

The two icons offered opposite approaches to this mini mid-career tour, however. Williams played only two new songs, from a forthcoming album, and lots of old favorites. Hynde played no old songs, sticking to tracks from “Fidelity,” the just-released disc by JP, Chrissie, et al., plus a couple that didn’t make that recording.

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Hynde’s risky pursuit of new frontiers worked better than Williams’ listless nostalgia. Deciding to join a new band after numerous Top 40 hits and arena tours with the Pretenders was a bold move. The Ohio-raised singer chose unknown Welsh lads decades younger than her, rather than some famous peers, because, well, she’s in love. She met JP Jones at a party, and the rocker with a rather storied list of past romances (Ray Davies, Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr, painter Lucho Brieva) fell hard.

Many of the songs on “Fidelity” explore this doomed liaison with a man “half my age,” as Hynde sings in “Perfect Lover.” The musical, but not the romantic, collaboration lasted. This led to an interesting tension onstage: Hynde repeatedly referred to their relationship in humorous, self-effacing ways that clearly embarrassed Jones (she joked he likes to collect antiques). He came back by blaming an ageist, sexist line in “Leave Me if You Must” on her.

Mostly, the partnership succeeds because Hynde and Jones both have warm, supple, multi-range voices that can belt full-throttle and croon tenderly. They traded high and low parts, tenor and soprano. Jones still needs to learn Hynde’s verbal wit; his lyrics slipped into earnest clichés. But their interplay was intimate and charming. Patrick Murdoch accompanied them with sometimes-dazzling slide-guitar leads. The full band returns in September.

Hynde seemed at ease in her new co-fronting role, but Williams fumbled and mumbled through parts of her 90-minute set. The ingredients were there for a perfect night — a moon rising over that grand maritime dame, a crowd full of fans, music stands loaded with great songs. But she seemed unable, or unwilling, to bring it all together. Instead, Williams complained that it was hard to rock in the outdoors venue because the sound kept disappearing. She forgot lyrics a couple times, despite the prompt in front of her.

As ever, she surrounds herself with excellent players, including drummer Butch Norton and bassist David Sutton. Guitarist Val McCallum played great, walloping leads. But with Williams in retreat, he too often dominated the show, with song after song ending in psychedelic finales — while Williams fiddled with her sheet music and glasses, having already moved on. Ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson breathed a little oxygen into the fire when she joined the encore of “Joy.” But Thursday, one had to wonder who took the joy out of this great song and artist.

-- Evelyn McDonnell

Top photo: Lucinda Williams at the Queen Mary on Thursday night. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times.

Bottom photo: Chrissie Hynde at the Queen Mary. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times

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