Corroboration from hard-core Lucinda Williams fans — and some words about the best shows ever in Santa Cruz

Looks like I’m not the only one who thinks it may well have been Lucinda’s best show ever. I’m hearing from lots of folks who have seen her upwards of 26 times and think that Rio show blew all the others away. Anyhow, let’s hope she rolls this way again very soon, and let’s hope she keeps on drinking that vitamin-fortified tangerine juice.

Meanwhile, here are some of the other greatest shows ever in the Santa Cruz general area:

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: 1996, the Catalyst. You should have been there. Neil didn’t say one freaking word for the entire set, but what a set it was, starting off with “Cowgirls in the Sand.” My sister kept telling me, you’d never even know he was famous. Neil and the band seemed like they were trying out for something. And it was so punk, and so damned loud. All that feedback, and Neil with his bangs in his eyes, just shredding away. My ears are ringing even now. By the way, the four-hour wait for the wristband was a concert in and of itself. I met one of my best pals in Santa Cruz in that endless line. And the crazy thing is, the Catalyst didn’t even try to fill the place. I think they capped the sales at 500 people, so we were watching Neil Young, and there was tons of room to dance and jump around. By the way, someone told me that Neil Young shopped solo at Bookshop Santa Cruz before that show. And no one recognized him. No one!

Midnight Oil, 1994 (?) The Catalyst. Do I have the date right for this one? One of the greatest rock bands in the world, able to fill sports arenas but playing at this little teeny Santa Cruz club? Peter Garrett, the band’s left-leaning, skin-headed giant, started things off with “That’s Progress,” and from then on it was a full-on two-hour assault of the smartest, hardest pop music in creation. It was like hearing “The Dead Heart,” “Read About It,” “Only the Strong” and “Now or Neverland” in your own living room. Garrett at one point lost patience with a fan who was flying and shaking an Australian flag. “Now, would you put that thing away already?” he asked. I had to buy my ticket from a scalper at a severe mark-up. It ended up costing me a grand total of twenty bucks. I believe this was part of their last full-fledged U.S. tour ever. Correct me if I’ve got that wrong.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, The Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 2003: So haunting and soulful and spare — and, just to give you a little context, the Kuumbwa is probably smaller than your living room. Do you ever find yourself having one of those transcendent musical moments, and there’s always someone sitting next to you who just doesn’t get it? There was someone behind me that night who kept muttering “This is just like old-time church music.” And I kept thinking, “Well, what’s the matter with old-time church music?”

John Prine at the KPIG Fat Fry, 1994. There’s a great little story that keeps circulating about this legendary concert, and who knows if it’s true? John Prine was headlining that day, and the crowd was packed in there pretty tight in the Aptos fairgrounds. A fan was hanging back in the shade, and suddenly this guy with a thick gray-brown mustache and a bit of a beerbelly taps him on the shoulder and asks if he might bum a light from him. And when the fan looked up, guess who was asking for that cigarette? Anyhow, believe it or not, but this was the first time I’d ever heard “Sam Stone,” “Big Old Goofy World,” “You Got Gold” and all the rest. Haiku and three chords. Can’t stop talking about it even now.

Doc Watson and David Grisman at the Mello Center, 1998. Not one of those pairings you see every day. At one point, Doc turned to Grisman and ordered him to make his mandolin bark like a dog.

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