Anyone who showed up to the tightly packed DC9 nightclub Wednesday night to soak up the world-class pipes and titillating lyrics of Lydia Loveless quickly realized the singer had a different agenda.
Belying her tiny frame and reticent presence, the 24-year-old likes to rock — and noisily.
Loveless travels with a four-piece band that has a couple of tricks up its sleeve: Her husband, Ben Lamb, played an upright bass that lent bounce and buoyancy to the otherwise pedestrian bar-rock din. And Jay Gasper doubled on pedal-steel and electric 12-string guitars to add touches of twang and jangle.
Add to these elements Loveless’s combustible vocals — she’s equal parts Nashville classicism and Stevie Nicks — for the intoxicating if familiar cowpunk formula: a Stones-via-Replacements deconstruction of country rock.
Loveless established this tone immediately and authoritatively with the slashing guitar intro of “More Like Them,” a spiky outburst that toggled between confession and take-me-or-leave-me defiance. Over the subsequent 90 minutes, Loveless let loose with charmingly bedraggled tales of desperation and self-reproach. There were multiple references to booze as well as cocaine, oral sex and (on the humorously make-believe “Steve Earle”) stalking.
Loveless sang most frequently of frustrated desire for emotional connection (“Really Wanna See You,” “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud”).
Often she was rife with uncertainty about just what it is that she desires. “Say I want to go / Then I want to stay at home,” she sang on “Somewhere Else.” On “To Love Somebody,” she sent this maddeningly mixed signal: “I never did want you to be mine / Well, at least not all the time.”
Probably the most auspicious thing that happened to Loveless on Wednesday was when she popped a string on her electric guitar. Thereafter she played an acoustic guitar, allowing her vocals to float higher to the sonic surface.
For the final trio of songs, she performed alone. “Everything’s Gone” and “I Don’t Care (If Tomorrow Never Comes)” were simply heartbreaking.
The clutter was cut away. And the point was made very clear. Loveless may never figure out what or whom she wants, or why, but in her own hands and voice, she’s got everything she needs.
Galupo is a freelance writer.