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Hardbitten blues for the lovers of Los Angeles: Lucinda Williams at the Bardot

February 15, 2011 |  7:30 pm

Lucinda Clad in all black and standing at the center of a blood-red room, Lucinda Williams cracked a rare smile. “Sorry to be so dark on Valentine’s Day,” she said, after tearing through a new song that questions the motives for a suicide, but no one in the audience seemed in need of an apology. The devoted fans, KCRW insiders and other begrudging romantics at Bardot’s weekly School Night party were intently focused on Williams and her tear-stained blues. Playing an hourlong set, Williams, with her three-piece band, trotted out slow-burn anthems for the weary, the dispossessed, and the brokenhearted, but most of all for those who know how to pick themselves up off the barroom floor and love all over again.

In the hands of Williams, love pushes us toward new states of recognition, a deeper sense of self and mission. “You Were Born,” a drifting bit of desert motel noir, finds her reading off a list of conditions, including disgrace, slavery and abandonment, that we weren’t born for –- only to counter them with the simple, repeated gospel that “you were born to be loved.” On the title track of her 10th album, Williams sounds as though she’s found her wisdom in both a pint of whiskey and a pack of worn tarot cards. Everyone she encounters in the song offers their blessings: the watchmaker, the homeless, the girl selling roses, the prisoner who knew how to be free.

For the dusty and dreamy “Awakening,” Williams was joined onstage by Blake Mills, a 24-year-old guitarist from Malibu who offered elliptical loops of slide guitar. On “Honey Bee,” a track from 2008’s “Little Honey,” Mills traded runs that verged on speed metal with Val McCallum, the other guitarist scrapping on stage.

Whatever wisdom Williams proffered was also served with a squirt of hot sauce in the eye. The Louisiana native kicked off her set with “Buttercup,” a wry kiss-off to a freeloading lover looking for her forgiveness, and she closed with the more ferocious version of that sentiment. On “Joy,” from her 1998 breakthrough “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” Williams shrieked in her shredded, revenant voice, “You took my joy; I want it back!” Have you dated Lucinda Williams? Consider yourselves warned, ex-vampires.

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo taken by Lauren Strasnick with the romantic Hipstamatic application on her ultra-futuristic iPhone.

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