Late in 2011, Columbus, Ohio native Lydia Loveless released her second album, Indestructible Machine. Recorded in two days, with only one take on the vocals, it was a raw, heartfelt firecracker of a record that couldn’t be ignored. Carried by the impossible strength of Loveless' voice, and the almost shocking maturity of her songwriting (at the time she recorded Machine, Loveless was 20 years old) the record quickly shot to the top of many critics year end best of lists – ours included – with Chicago music critic Greg Kot giving the record 3.5 out of 4 stars, calling Loveless “a major new voice blowing into the country-punk dives and honky-tonks.” High praise indeed, but well deserved.
After a year of criss-crossing the country riding the crest of that wave, Loveless’ travels finally brought her to DC last Tuesday. Standing at barely five feet tall, she took the stage to an already packed Back Room at The Black Cat (she was opening for blues-punker Scott H. Biram) and delivered a stripped down, gut wrenching performance that was anything but diminutive.
Accompanied by only an upright bass (played by husband Ben Lamb) Loveless kicked things off with the track “Paid” from her debut album, The Only Man. With the lyric “Well you might be getting me drunk / but this conversation sucks / And for some inexplicable reason you thought we were going to go home and fuck”, “Paid” is a song that turns the idea of life after of the show as some maudlin, melancholy existence on its head, trading contemplation for self doubt and tawdry humiliation – themes that run strong through Loveless’ music. And for those who were unfamiliar with Loveless it was a sharp slap in the face to announce just what they were in for.
After a blasphemous performance of “Jesus Was A Whino” and brilliant stalker “fantasy” of “Steve Earle”, Loveless paused to apologize to the crowd saying that she was suffering from a cold, though you wouldn’t have known it. Occupying a space somewhere between Patsy, Loretta and Joan (Jett), the singer’s voice is practically a force of nature. And whether it was performing songs like “Do Right”, “Can’t Change Me” and “Learn To Say No” off of Indestructible Machine, or a sweaty version of the Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn duet “After The Fire Is Gone”, Loveless’ voice never faltered.
Ending with a one two punch of “Bad Way To Go” and quasi-murder ballad, “The Only Man”, Loveless politely thanked everyone, packed up some gear and waded off into the crowd. What her set might have lacked in length – it was only eleven songs long – it more than made up for in, heart, soul and whiskey soaked truths. With any luck, it won’t take another year for Loveless to return to DC, but if this performance was any indication, it will be well worth the wait even if it does.