Lucinda Williams is in the midst of a multi-night run of shows performing each one of her five albums in its entirety. The “theme night” is not a new concept — Elvis Costello played three shows in 1986 with a spinning wheel listing dozens of his songs on it; wherever the wheel stopped, that was the tune he played — but only recently has it become its own concert genre and an important revenue stream. (Remember this summer’s Slint and Sonic Youth shows?) Said genre falls into some basic categories. We’ve conveniently summarized them for you, the nostalgic consumer.
The Stunt: The artist attempts a death-defying “oh-no-he-didn’t” feat.
Example: Rufus Wainwright’s Judy Garland nights at Carnegie Hall last summer, where Wainwright performed Judy’s set list from her landmark 1961 show at the same venue. Wainwright now periodically takes the Rufus and Judy Show on the road; think Hal Holbrook’s long-running Mark Twain show, with its emphasis on commerce over art.
The Classics Redux: The artist hawks a night of standards.
Example: Earlier this year, the Jam’s Paul Weller showcased the different phases of his career over three nights at Irving Plaza. The first show, advertised as “Jam Night,” fetched upwards of $300 a ticket; the permanently grumpy Weller played just ten Jam songs before meandering into his hippy-dippy solo offerings and saying the night was someone else’s idea.
The Premature Retrospective: Precocious artist recalls not-yet-bygone youth.
Example: Per the L.A. Times, former wunderkind Ben Kweller played a series of shows at L.A.’s Echo Lounge last month in which he presented 2002’s Sha Sha and 2004’s On My Way in their entirety. Whether three years is long enough for an album to foster a longing wistfulness in fans is unknown, but Kweller brought post-acne exuberance to the shows rather than the usual middle-aged punch-the-clock mediocrity.
As for Lucinda Williams, her Sunday night show at Irving Plaza was less Kweller than Weller. She stopped just short of staring, POW-like, into the audience and saying, “I will play the contractually obligated songs, but I will be really, really bored.” As promised, she performed all of 2000’s Essence — then ceded much of the concert’s second half to friend Jim Lauderdale, playing a couple of her own songs and three inscrutable covers, including the Ramones’ “Sedated.”