Lydia Loveless

Lydia Loveless at Underground Arts, Philadelphia, PA, November 4, 2017,

Nov 10, 2017 Web Exclusive Photography by Matt Caltabiano Bookmark and Share


Saturday night in Philadelphia is always a good time. People are out. The city is bustling with activity, the bars filled and the music plentiful. Which is why seeing that country punk songwriter extraordinaire Lydia Loveless was going to be in town, at the wonderfully scuzzy basement venue, Underground Arts, presented the perfect opportunity for a trip to the city.

Sure Loveless has undergone something of a maturation in her songwriting, from the hard-drinkin',hard lovin' rebel of 2011's raucous album Indestructible Machine to the more nuanced, lyrically introspective songwriter of last year's Real. Philadelphia's was the second show of her Lydia Loveless (solo) tour, ostensibly promoting the recent reissue of her randy Boy Crazy EP and selected singles, which the often innuendo-prone and recently divorced Loveless titled Boy Crazy and Single(s). Catching a pre-show beverage at a hipster-esque tavern and making small talk over a pint of Philadelphia's finest cask ale, the bartender, having caught wind of the evening's plans, casually mentioned, "Oh, that's the show with the sad songs." No matter. What does she know?

Of course, exactly how portentous this comment would be, I would soon find out. The first indication that this night might be different than expected was that upon arrival, the venue, typically jammed full of sweaty maniacs bellying up to the stage with vigorous abandon, was set with chairs. The crowd was older than usual, atypical for even Loveless, who tends to unwittingly court an older male demographic. And waitresses were bringing drinks to the seated patrons, which numbered about 100. Add to this Loveless' own assertion early on in her set that, "I feel like I overloaded the set list with sad songs," and one realized quickly that this was not going to be a night of drunken bawdy insouciance. However, what was to follow was scores better.

Backed only by guitarist Todd May, Loveless tore through 16 songs, all from her most recent two albums save one older track and one brand new song. She largely eschewed cuts from Boy Crazy and her first two rowdy rebel albums 2010's The Only Man and the aforementioned Indestructible Machine. It was a set long on heartache but revelatory as something of a coming out party for Loveless. Gone were the stand up bass of her now ex husband, the slide guitar of bandmate Jay Gasper, and any roll on the floor hysterics. But they were not missed in the slightest.

Opening with "Midwestern Guys," from Real, and a brief aside about Scandinavian literature, Loveless' 95-minute set showcased the power and craft of her most recent work. "More Than Ever," one of her most affecting songs, of a woman scored, was followed by the b-side "Mile High" and "Chris Isaak" from 2014's Somewhere Else, which she playfully introduced as "Steve Gadd" after another aside, about the legendary drummer.

Performed as a duo, "Bilbao" cut to the heart of the song, with Loveless on acoustic guitar accompanied only by May's electric, and featuring stellar harmonies ringing through the bare bones instrumentation. "Out on Love" was rendered, in spare arrangement, even more intense than its recorded counterpart. The crowd was so enrapt, one could hear a pin drop between songs.

"Desire," released digitally with Loveless' recent cover of Justin Bieber's "Sorry" (don't laugh, it's infinitely better than you'd ever imagine), was the evening's one outstanding electric guitar-fest, with Loveless pounding out a fuzzed riff, sounding almost like Dinosaur Jr, while May provided acoustic backing. The song was one of the most impassioned of an already impassioned set list.

After a revelatory acoustic version of "Somewhere Else," Loveless stepped back from the previous offhand song introductions and non sequiturs, expressing gratitude for the evening. "'Grateful' comes out of my mouth once a decade," Loveless said, with a flippancy that masked her true emotion. "So don't forget to put that in the blog post."

"Heaven," which featured driving acoustic guitar and was absent the '80s sheen the song adopts on Real was followed by a new song featuring lines such as "I don't know what all this drinking has been for," and "I don't want to disappoint you anymore." It nearly spurred tears.

Perhaps growing restless of this new and improved Loveless, the crowd, which had been suspiciously silent up to this point, started shouting requests, which seemed to take Loveless aback. "I'll try to remember it," she said when an audience member called for "Can't Change Me," a fiery shout of independence from Indestructible Machine. She played the track, prefacing it by stating that 19, presumably the age at which she wrote the track, was a weird time and saying, "I hate that person," in reference to who she was then.

After the song's glorious reception and renewed calls for various other tracks, Loveless said deadpan, "I think I have a good understanding of what I have to do now." Perhaps she was referring to realizing what the crowd expected of her. Perhaps she was asserting that their desires were not to be on this evening. But even better, she defiantly strode into intense, affecting versions of "Everything's Gone," perhaps her most personal song to date, and the aforementioned "Sorry," which strips all of Bieber's teen nonsense to expose the song's heartbroken core. Ending the set with "a song about death," Loveless played "Clumps" from Real and left the stage, no encore forthcoming.

Loveless' performance on this night, while perhaps defying expectation, was a showcase like none she has played before, of an artist who, despite an earlier reputation that still dogs her, has gotten infinitely better with age. The crowd of largely older men was clearly still titillated by the younger Loveless, cheering when she says "fuck" or longingly catching their gasps when she sings about self-love and Lucky Strikes. But Loveless' power does not reside here anymore. In fact, it never did, and she knows this now. While she still is one to favor a saucy innuendo here and there, Loveless has moved past the randy, whiskey-drinking young woman to a more mature adult, navigating the complexities of life, love, and loss with as astute an introspective and observational eye as any songwriter today. The wink-and-a-nod, while still present in her writing, is no longer its essence. The Lydia Loveless of 2017 is free of past shackles, previous tropes, and old man-baiting suggestiveness. What she has become is markedly better, more nuanced, more powerful, and more affecting. Now only if she can add a couple more happy songs into her set.

(www.lydialoveless.com)




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