FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: I LOVE LUCY
I’ll resist the temptation to rant again this week despite more nonsense from our government, Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat at the weekend and several calls from John from Microsoft telling me my computer isn’t working. Instead let us focus on something life affirming for a change. It was a great pleasure finally to get to see Lucy Dacus perform live, with the bonus that the venue was less than 100 yards from where I live. This particular show, arranged by the redoubtable Banquet Records, was a late addition to the singer-songwriter’s extensive tour of UK and Europe which ends in Dublin this Monday.
The title of this week’s piece came to me after recently watching Being the Ricardos, Aaron Sorkin’s fine biopic of I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. I Love Lucy was the most popular US TV sitcom of the 50s and I remember seeing countless episodes over here in the decade that followed. That brings us back to our Lucy Dacus and how memories of her own teen years spent in her home town of Richmond, Virginia informed her 2021 album, Home Video. It was apparent that tonight’s audience, dutifully masked at the artiste’s request, absolutely adore Lucy - a scenario that I’m quite sure is repeated wherever she plays.
Photography of Lucy Dacus and Brooke Bentham at St John's by Kevin England
Tonight, we are in the lovely Victorian space of St John’s Church, Kingston. Richmond is only a few miles up the road and, while it’s not the Richmond of her native Virginia, Lucy seems immediately at ease in South-west London. Franked by ace guitarists Jacob Blizard from her main band to her left and Dominic Angelella to her right, she took up a seated position for all bar the final song, crimson red lips bright against pale skin framed by her lush dark locks. The chair was a reminder perhaps that she suffered a double herniated disc earlier this year and stoically performed some US shows while lying on a couch. Whatever, it seemed a very natural and intimate stage set up. Opening with the visceral “Hot & Heavy” from Home Video, there was no doubt that the brilliant interplay between the two guitarists would more than compensate for the full band sound at larger shows and on the video below.
Lucy’s set is largely drawn from Home Video and packed with snippets from her youth, frank in their unease, candid in their telling. She has a delicious turn of phrase evident on all her songs which bristle with killer opening lines whether they set the scene or get straight to the meat. The largely gentle “Christine” shows her weighing the past against an imagined future, ready to “throw my shoe at the altar,” rather than lose her friend “to somebody who won't make you happy”. Her affection for those in her past shines through; you feel it’s as much about them as herself as she recalls her formative years. It’s strange that tonight’s show is in a church when the artiste has less than fond memories of a certain brand of religion, brought to a head in her song “VBS”, referencing Vacation Bible School – a Christian summer camp she attended in her youth. Nevertheless, the quiet ambience of the setting suits her well. Between songs she is comfortable, urbane, bright.
Her songs have an individuality to them, like they exist as entities in themselves. It’s an art that separates Lucy Dacus from many songwriters and maintains interest throughout her set. There’s an eagerness to see what’s coming next tempered by a wish to savour what has just gone. Midway in the set, Lucy delivers her longstanding live favourite, “Thumbs”, with an apology for the swear word and threat to murder someone, in a church! It is as compelling a tale as ever; that of accompanying a friend going to meet her estranged father. The moral support she offers her friend gives way to murderous and even gruesome thoughts, underlining the likely true nature of the absent father. Here is the recorded version but tonight’s trio captured it quite brilliantly too.
Her latest single, “Kissing Lessons”, provided an immediate antidote in the set which proceeded with two further cuts from Home Video and a pretty faithful cover of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” until we came to the penultimate song which saw Lucy determined to compensate for the lack of drums and electric guitar. “Night Shift”, from her second album, Historian, with two acoustic guitars still carried the bristling energy of the recorded version; the build and the near-shouted choruses at the end with the crowd singing along worked a treat. Listen to this full band version now via KEXP and just imagine it with tonight’s acoustic trio on stage.
I have left any description of Lucy’s voice till the end. Partly this is due to the paradox of ever being adequate in assigning descriptor words to a particular voice. Portraying a singer as having honeyed tones is straight out of the rock writers’ handbook but it is truly apt for Lucy Dacus. There is a fluidity to her voice, a sweetness that ensures her lyrics just glide off her tongue. It’s just perfect. Dominic handed her his guitar and both band mates left the stage for the final song. She explained that she was going to play an unreleased song and asked that no one records it on their phone, referencing how “Thumbs” was similarly respected until it was finally released. Enough said. I’m sure no one pressed the red button as she accompanied herself on guitar and sang plaintively about her home town and her missed opportunities. The song just needs a title and them maybe it will get its own Twitter page until she releases it.
Supporting Lucy Dacus tonight was South Shields singer-songwriter Brooke Bentham whose indie slacker sound shares some common ground with US acts like Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy. Despite her Geordie roots, her vocal style is very transatlantic too. She ran through a short set of songs accompanying herself on a turquoise Fender electric with little by way of information between them so I’m actually not sure of the song titles. Brooke was clearly pleased to be playing in front of such an attentive crowd who received her set with appreciation and some enthusiasm.
Brooke shares some territory with Lucas Dacus in writing about her experiences of young adulthood. She recorded a debut album Everyday Nothing and follow up EP Nowhere Near which you can find on both Spotify and Bandcamp. As an introduction to her music here is a bittersweet track from the former, “Perform for You” which I rather like.
I STAND WITH UKRAINE