Judging from a one-night sample, here is part of what you might expect to hear at a Lydia Loveless concert, depending on her mood: Profane, confessional asides about ex-lovers. Free-flowing, jocular remarks regarding anal and oral sex that may somehow also involve the Traveling Wilburys. Sometimes-playful mocks directed at novelist Jane Austen and exponentially more-famous singers such as Katy Perry, Meghan Trainor, Shania Twain and even Tom Petty, whose apparent crime is getting away with employing a faux Mexican accent on his 1970s classic “Breakdown” all these years (“Ees all right eef you luf me …”).
And that is just the scattershot, between-songs banter.
This portion of the act is not only tolerable, but to be expected, due to what else you’ll hopefully — actually, most assuredly — hear: gut-wrenching, soul-baring, unflinchingly candid tunes centered on unrequited love that’s shot to hell, in a performance that’s sometimes brilliant, often engaging and always brutally honest. (Her description of one of the evening’s brand-new offerings as “cathartic” was an understatement that could have applied to her whole set.) On the opening night of the latest road swing for Loveless and her four-piece backing band, this dynamic was enough to keep a few dozen folks riveted through a never-a-dull-moment performance that wrapped up at 1:30 a.m. — a triumph on a bone-chilling winter’s weeknight in suburbia.
Strangely charming, relentless energy
The somewhat-bizarre rants and humor might have derailed a lesser talent’s show, but Loveless’ lack of a filter — her openness in telling or singing about her dysfunctional relationships would make Lucinda Williams blush — was actually strangely charming (and a bit remarkable when you consider husband/bassist Benjamin Lamb is standing all of three feet away while she introduces a song about some “f**king guy” who “ruined your life”). Her chattiness also was a sign that she and her band — which ably followed her cues when it came to cracking jokes or taking a stab at the next ad-libbed song selection — were raring to go, and then some.
Maybe a 10-hour drive to New Jersey will do that to you. Back on the road supporting her 2014 album, Somewhere Else, which earned the precocious 24-year-old singer-songwriter considerable praise, Loveless admitted she had been going a bit stir-crazy the past couple months at home in Ohio. It only seemed to add to the sense of urgency onstage — and may explain why the show went on for a whopping two breakneck hours.
The restless energy seemed palpable right from the opening strains of the edgy “Really Wanna See You,” one of a bevy of tunes that melds Loveless’ plaintive wail with the weeping pedal steel guitar of Jay Gasper. The most impressive of that bunch on this night was the aching mid-tempo title track to Somewhere Else (Bloodshot Records), but there were highlights abound, thanks in part to Loveless’ vocal versatility: She can summon ample power to punctuate a ballsy, barroom rocker like “Mile High,” but also project enough subtle sweetness to anchor the countrified heartache of “All I Know” (which featured oh-so-convincingly rendered lyrics like “How many times have I laid awake at night, wishing you were here to start a fight?”).
After being notified that they were about to be cut off by the soundman with closing time approaching, the quintet capped the show’s decidedly off-the-cuff homestretch with the rollicking shuffle of “Crazy,” a booze-and-neuroses filled tale that saw Loveless go guitarless for the first time all night. Improbably, this resulted in her being even more uninhibited, and as she flailed and tumbled about the stage while belting out the climactic, impassioned refrain, “I knew that I was crazy alone/Now I’m just crazy for you,” it seemed, well, truly cathartic.
— By George Henn